Zakzak headlines that NJ part-time staff flee Yoshinoya restaurant chain, and somehow threaten its profitability


IN APPROPRIATE, A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan, By ARUDOU Debito

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Hi Blog. More on the Open Season on NJ. Here is Internet news site Zakzak headlining that Yoshinoya, famous beef bowl chain restaurant, is being affected by the “big-volume escaping of NJ part-timers”.  It apparently has lost a quarter of its NJ staff (over 800 souls) fleeing from the fears of radiation from the Tohoku Disasters. Then Zakzak gives us the mixed news that Yoshinoya is still profitable compared to its losses the same period a year ago, but is expected to take a hit to its profits from the Disasters.

Not sure how that relates, but again, the headline is that NJ are fleeing and that it’s raising doubts about whether the company is still “okay”. Even though Zakzak notes that the company is filling in the gaps with Japanese employees (er, so no worries, right?  The Disasters, not the alleged NJ flight, are the bigger threat to solvency, no?).  So… journalistically, we’ll hang the newsworthiness of a company’s profitability on the peg of “escaping NJ”?

If we’re going to have this much NJ bashing, how about an acknowledgement of how much NJ labor has meant to Japan and how we’re thankful for it, so please don’t leave?

Nah, easier to bash them.  Takes the heat off the company for their own variably profitable business practices, and creates more attractive headlines for the media.  It’s a win-win situation against the bullied and disenfranchised minority.  Arudou Debito


2011.04.15, Courtesy YK

こんなところにも震災ショックが!! 傘下の牛丼チェーン「吉野家」で働く首都圏の外国人アルバイトが、福島第1原発事故後の約1週間で約200人も退職した。放射性物質への不安から帰国した人が多かったとみられる。



My Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Column 38, April 5, 2011: “Letting radiation leak, but never information”


IN APPROPRIATE, A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan, By ARUDOU Debito

Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to JapanForeign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in JapansourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumbUPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito
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The Japan Times Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Letting radiation leak, but never information


March 2011 has shaken Japan to the core. The earthquake, tsunami and nuclear incident in Fukushima have given the world cause to pause and reflect on the fragility and hubris of human existence. My condolences to the victims, and their families and friends.

But it’s time for some assessments, however premature.

First, some praise. I thought the government did a much better job than in the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake. Back then, several days passed before Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama and the military arrived on the scene, due to collapsed infrastructure and communication snafus. Yet while thousands of people lay dying in rubble, our government famously rejected aid from overseas. They refused provisions and medicine from nearby American aircraft carriers, even tying up Swiss sniffer dogs in quarantine. People died from the bureaucracy’s belief that Japan was too rich and developed to need foreign help.

This time, however, Prime Minister Naoto Kan was on the scene with rescue teams almost immediately. Although Kan did resort to traditional rhetoric of “We Japanese saving ourselves” in his speeches (a callously ethnocentric way to ask Japan’s residents to dig deep emotionally), overseas aid was accepted with fanfare and gratitude. I thought Kan did the best he could, given the information at the government’s disposal.

But here endeth the praise. As Fukushima’s nuclear reactors become Japan’s perpetually burning tire-yard fire, they have laid bare the fundamental flaw of Japan’s “nanny state”: the assumption that “father knows best” and that the public are children incapable of dealing with potentially dangerous situations. The reflexive, obsessive control of information has done our people a great disservice.

Let’s start with the Tokyo Electric Power Co. They kept us woefully underinformed (to put it mildly) about the stricken reactors. Some may say that leaking limited information is standard operating procedure for the nuclear industry worldwide (justified under “avoiding public panic”), but this was not mere lipstick on a wasteful political boondoggle — it was a potential China Syndrome (or would that be South Atlantic Syndrome in this case?). And since the fallout could not be contained domestically, the story came under more demanding global standards of scrutiny.

Tragically, Tepco kept such a tight lid on information that not only was our government kept in the dark, but so were worldwide nuclear experts. This caused burgeoning speculation, a slow-breeder panic and a media meltdown poisoned by gross mutations of logic.

The increasingly senile governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, called the disaster “divine intervention” for Japan’s “egoism” (he later apologized; now let’s have a public retraction of his 2000 speech claiming that heinous foreigners would riot during natural disasters like these). Governments began to disagree on the definition of “safe distance” from Fukushima, while Japan adjusted “safe levels of radiation exposure” to suit political expediency.

While Japan’s media cartels as usual skimped on investigative journalism, overseas and online media, running on fumes, had no choice but to fill in the gaps. When some foreign reportage became sensationalist, proponents of nuclear power utilized it to sow doubt and dissent. Commentators were derided as fearmongers for presenting the heresy that nuclear power might not be so safe after all. Eventually, if the information had not been sourced from the nuclear industry itself, it was interpreted as suspicious, culturally insensitive, even anti-Japanese.

Criticism shifted from those who caused this incident to those who wanted to do something about it. People moving to a safer location were treated as deserters. The exasperated public began to tune out and adopt a sense of futility and fatalism, even as radiation levels rose and contaminated the food chain.

Fortunately, given time, all this should pass. But one lingering afterglow will be a feeling of betrayal of the public trust.

We were told that nuclear power was safe. One assumes, not unreasonably, that this means no leaks. Zero emissions. Hence, the public should have zero tolerance for any man-made radiation. We should reject ex post facto reassurances that this amount of millisieverts is insignificant, the same as an X-ray, an airplane flight, etc. Sometimes the government’s advice was so unscientific that it tried the patience of an educated society. (In a land of poorly insulated housing, being told to “just stay indoors” is clearly stopgap.)

My point is that the public has been kept in the dark for generations about the risks of nuclear power, settling for cute cartoon characters that deliberately and persistently underinform us. Yet when the industry screws up, who takes the fallout?

Not Japan’s nuclear firms. Tepco, remember, similarly botched things after radiation leaks at Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, in 1999 and the Kashiwazaki- Kariwa plant in Niigata Prefecture in 2007. Yet these Homer Simpsons remain in charge, despite, according to Wikileaks, repeated warnings from overseas specialists about their outmoded and lackluster safety standards (in a land of extreme seismic activity, no less). In a society that, if anything, overcompensates in the name of safety, why is nuclear energy such a glowing exception?

Nor will the government be held accountable, despite abetting coverups, preventing more leaks of information than of radiation, and rarely coming clean about nuclear power’s dirty secrets. Part of it is due to the lack of class-action lawsuit mechanisms in Japan’s judiciary, and the fact that judges almost never rule against the government.

But most of it is rooted in one simple historical fact: The state always wins in Japan. Because it always has.

This is a society, remember, that has never experienced a popular grassroots revolution in its history. The result is that less cultural value is placed on fairness and social justice, more on personal perseverance and knuckling under — even if that means the environment gets poisoned and people die, either as volunteer fire department heroes or as silent victims after long-term radiation exposure. Afterward, we’ll salute and mourn those who sacrificed themselves for the system, feeling sad for them but grateful that it didn’t happen to us. It’s a cost of living in Japan.

One would hope that Fukushima would occasion review and reform. But I doubt it will. Fukushima has illuminated how the biggest problems facing Japan will not get fixed — because the public cannot or will not force the state to take responsibility for its mistakes. Ultimately, this is what breeds Japan’s undying fatalism.

Debito Arudou’s new novel “In Appropriate” is now on sale; see Twitter @arudoudebito. Just Be Cause appears on the first Community Page of the month. Send comments on this issue to

NB: Comments are open, but comments that do not stick to the points raised in this article, or add anything substantially new to the previous discussions on these issues we’ve had on in the past, will not be approved. Sorry.

The on Tohoku Earthquake has shaken Japan Inc.


IN APPROPRIATE, A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan, By ARUDOU Debito

Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to JapanForeign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in JapansourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumbUPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito
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Hi Blog.  As starts to emerge from vacation mode, I think the focus will be on something very much within this blog’s purview:  How the events since 3/11 have affected NJ residents of Japan.  But before that, here is an interesting piece on a topic that I take up in part in my most recent Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column (out today, read it here):  How the quakes and the aftermath have exposed the flaws of Japan’s corporatist governance.  Arudou Debito


Naoto Kan and the End of ‘Japan Inc.’

By Tim Shorrock, Courtesy of TTB

On March 13, forty-eight hours after Japan’s Tohoku region was rocked by a catastrophic earthquake, a ferocious tsunami and partial meltdowns at several nuclear power plants in Fukushima, Prime Minister Naoto Kan asked his citizens to unite in the face of “the toughest crisis in Japan’s sixty-five years of postwar history.” Emperor Akihito underscored the gravity of the situation by announcing his “deep concern” for the nation in his first public speech since ascending the throne in 1990. His address brought back sharp memories of his father, Emperor Hirohito, who ended World War II in a famous radio address in August 1945 that asked Japan to “endure the unendurable.”

But even as Japan was reeling from the disaster’s death toll—which is expected to surpass 20,000—and growing increasingly frightened by the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Company’s nuclear reactor complex, there was growing unease at the lack of straight information from both the government and Tepco, a utility with a troubled history of lies, cover-ups and obfuscation dating back to the late 1960s.

The information gap became an international issue on March 16, when US Nuclear Regulatory Commission chair Gregory Jaczko openly contradicted the Japanese government by declaring that water in one of Tepco’s reactors had boiled away, raising radiation in the area to “extremely high levels.” He recommended evacuation to any Americans within fifty miles of the site—nearly double the evacuation zone announced by the Japanese government (which immediately denied Jaczko’s assertions). TheNew York Times piled on the next day with a major article that pilloried the Kan government. “Never has postwar Japan needed strong, assertive leadership more—and never has its weak, rudderless system of governing been so clearly exposed,” the reporters declared.

To be sure, Tokyo’s response to the disaster has been erratic, and the paucity of information about Fukushima was one of the first complaints I heard about the situation from my friends in Japan. But much of the criticism poured on Japan has obscured the many ways its political system has shifted since a 2009 political earthquake, when the ruling  Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) was swept out of power for the first time in fifty years. The changes, particularly to people who remember the government’s pathetic response to the 1995 earthquake in Kobe, which killed nearly 6,500, have been striking.

Back then, “the central government was paralyzed, and the city, prefectural, and national police, fire brigades, water authorities, highway authorities, and Self-Defense Forces were shown to be unreliable,” the Australian historian Gavan McCormack wrote in his seminal 1996 book  The Emptiness of Japanese Affluence. McCormack, who has lived in Japan for decades, documented that only twenty of sixty-two offers of foreign assistance were accepted; a US offer to dispatch an aircraft carrier as a floating refugee camp was refused; foreign doctors were initially rejected because they lacked proper registration; and “sniffer” dogs that could have been searching for victims were held for days in airport quarantine. Japan’s bureaucratic response was “cold and more concerned with the preservation of its own control” than with humanitarian relief, McCormack concluded.

Kan, who rose to fame as an opponent of Japan’s turgid bureaucracy, has been far more decisive. After a few days of delay and confusion—not surprising, given the magnitude 9.0 quake, the largest in Japanese history—his government moved swiftly on many fronts. Military relief helicopters and ships were dispatched to the worst-hit areas. A US Navy armada was welcomed to the coastal areas hit by the tsunami (although the ships have since moved far away to avoid fallout from the radiation). Foreign offers of resources, including medical and relief teams, were welcomed and teams dispatched within days. Kan’s spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano, has constantly been on the air, briefing reporters and the public (including on  Twitter). Kan himself flew by helicopter to view the stricken reactors and took personal charge of the nuclear crisis.

As the situation at the reactors deteriorated and Tepco’s explanations became increasingly opaque, Kan quickly lost patience. “What the hell is going on?” he was overheard asking on the phone to Tepco after one frustrating briefing. On March 16 Kan shifted responsibility for the crisis from the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency and Tepco to Japan’s Self-Defense Forces. Tepco “has almost no sense of urgency whatsoever,” he complained. By this time, too, many Japanese had grown weary of the alarmist warnings of foreign governments and journalists. One group even posted an online “Wall of Shame” to document the “sensationalist, overly speculative, and just plain bad reporting” from foreign journalists.

* * *

That reporting, and the fact that so many media organizations had to fly journalists to Japan, underscores how much that country has disappeared from our political discourse since the early 1990s, when Japan’s economic juggernaut was halted by a financial and banking crisis that led to two decades of stagnation. At the same time, some of the US criticism of Kan seems to stem from nostalgia for the years when the LDP ruled supreme through a system in which—in the Times reporters’ words—“political leaders left much of the nation’s foreign policy to the United States and domestic affairs to powerful bureaucrats.”

That is extremely misleading. Beginning in the early 1950s, the LDP was financed heavily by the CIA as a bulwark against the once-powerful Japanese left, and successive LDP governments acted as a junior partner to the United States in the cold war. While Washington provided the weapons (and the soldiers) to fight communism, the Japanese elite provided military bases and profited by funneling economic aid and investments to US allies in South Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines and elsewhere.

At home, the LDP and its corporate backers fought ferociously to suppress labor unions and civic groups that organized to protect workers, human rights and the environment. The end result was an LDP-created “Japan Inc.”—an undemocratic, corporatist state in which bureaucrats blessed and promoted nuclear power and other industries they were supposed to regulate, and then received lucrative jobs in those industries upon retirement—a system known as  amakudari.

But during the ’90s the LDP-style of governing came crashing down. A key turning point—and the one that brought Naoto Kan to prominence—came in 1996 over a notorious scandal over tainted blood. The scandal began in the early ’80s, when the US government, warning that blood supplies were corrupted by HIV, licensed the production of heat-treated blood (which killed the virus) for use in transfusions. The Japanese Ministry of Health and Welfare learned of the contamination problem as early as 1983 but publicly dismissed the threat to the public. As a result, hundreds of people, primarily hemophiliacs, received transfusions of unheated, corrupted blood; more than 500 died. The Japanese public later learned that the Health Ministry deliberately refused to license heated blood for several years, not out of health concerns but because it was available only from foreign companies (“To have licensed its use before domestic firms had set up production would have significantly affected market share,” the London Independent reported at the time). Worse, the ministry’s chief adviser on blood transfusions and HIV received large sums of money from Green Cross, one of the companies that supplied unheated blood. And, in a classic form of amakudari, Green Cross hired several former high-ranking ministry officials in senior positions while the tainted blood was still an issue.

These facts were unearthed in 1996 by Naoto Kan when he was minister of health and welfare in a brief coalition government of the LDP and several small parties. Outraged by the scandal, Kan forced ministry officials to release documents showing that they had allowed public use of HIV-tainted blood, and he publicly apologized to the victims. As a result, Kan became wildly popular and at one point was dubbed “the most honest man in Japanese politics.” I was working as a journalist in Tokyo at the time and vividly recall how his embrace of accountability and sharp critique of the bureaucracy surprised and delighted the Japanese public.

But Kan, who became prime minister in June 2010, is also unusual because he isn’t part of a political dynasty. Unlike many Japanese politicians, he emerged from a middle-class family and (like President Obama) first made his mark as a civic activist for progressive causes. In 1997 he was elected to lead the Democratic Party, an amalgam of disillusioned LDP members, trade unionists and the remnants of the left-wing Social Democratic Party. As the party leader in 2003, he took on LDP Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi for sending military forces to back up President Bush in Iraq, at one point calling Bush’s war “mass murder.”

Kan’s Democratic Party finally took control of Japan when it scored a landslide victory over the LDP in the August 2009 parliamentary elections. That contest was won by then–party leader Yukio Hatoyama, who campaigned on a plan to strike a line in foreign policy more independent of the United States. His first order of business was to scrap a 2006 agreement with the Bush administration to relocate Futenma, a US Marine Corps air base in Okinawa, to another site on the crowded island, and to send a large contingent of the Marines to Guam. By a wide majority, the people of Okinawa, home to about 75 percent of US bases in Japan, backed Hatoyama’s counterproposal to Washington, which involved removing the Marine base from Japan altogether.

To the Pentagon, however, Hatoyama’s initiative was a nonstarter. As soon as Obama took power, US officials launched a full-court press to dissuade Japan’s new ruling party from scrapping the 2006 agreement. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates argued relentlessly that the Marine presence in Okinawa (which has been continuously occupied by US forces since 1945) was critical, not only to Japan’s security but to US global strategy as well, and insisted it was particularly important in repelling threats from North Korea and China. Last May, Hatoyama gave in. He withdrew the proposal, reaffirmed the agreement with slight modifications and apologized to Okinawa for failing to remove the base. That cost him the leadership of his party and allowed Kan—who’d resigned as party leader in 2004—to take his place.

Kan has taken a softer line on the US bases, declaring that security agreements with the United States will remain a cornerstone of Japanese policy. But the difficulties of the US–Japan relationship were underscored a few days before the Tohoku earthquake when Kevin Maher, head of the State Department’s Japan desk, was quoted in a speech denouncing the people of Okinawa as “masters of manipulation and extortion”—apparently for their strong opposition to US bases. Maher was quickly removed from his post (he remains at State). But the incident is a sad illustration of America’s Big Brother approach to Japan and symbolizes a bilateral relationship that the lateChalmers Johnson once compared to the servile ties between the Soviet Union and East Germany. With the formerly compliant LDP out of power, US policy-makers are still trying to understand that they’re in a whole new ballgame.

But it’s unclear how Kan and his party will pull through. Just before the quake, Kan’s popularity had sunk to below 20 percent, largely as a result of a scandal involving illegal campaign donations from foreigners and stalled parliamentary negotiations over Japan’s budget; there had even been talk of new elections. In a poll published on March 27, however, Kan’s numbers rose to 28 percent, while a hefty 58 percent approved of his government’s handling of the disaster (but the same percentage disapproved of Kan’s handling of the nuclear crisis, and an astonishing 47 percent urged that atomic power plants be immediately abolished).

Meanwhile, the triple disaster continued to unfold as the smoldering reactors spewed high amounts of radioactivity into the environment and Japan began a rebuilding process that will continue for years. Despite the suffering, the Japanese press on, just as they did after World War II. A week after the earthquake and tsunami struck, my Japanese stepmother, Yasuko, who lived in Tokyo during the war, reminded me that her parents had met as Christian relief workers after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, which almost wiped Tokyo off the map. “If it wasn’t for that earthquake, I wouldn’t be here today,” she told me. “Out of darkness, you know, there’s always hope.”


Another trustworthy source connected with the industry believes, short of a miracle, Fukushima reactors won’t be cooled enough in time to avoid “fission product release”


IN APPROPRIATE, A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan, By ARUDOU Debito

Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to JapanForeign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in JapansourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumbUPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito
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Hi Blog.  I’m sorry to keep quoting sources who wish to remain anonymous, but this is another person I trust, who says:  “Prefer to remain in the background – for now. Please rest assured, my sources are VERY HIGH up in the industry in the United States and are working 24 hours a day to follow this incident due to the dramatic potential ramifications if multiple units ‘meltdown’.”  However, he wishes for this information to be known, and chose to be his venue.  Take this letter within that context.  Arudou Debito


March 18, 2011

In light of the debate occurring over the scope of the nuclear catastrophe on Debito-san’s blog I would like to present some information.

I am not the individual that made the original post (which some have asked Debito to remove) and I agree with some of the arguments refuting that post. Those who have asked Debito to remove the post should also state their credentials as well and provide a more detailed rebuttal to each issue (I do agree with some of the refuting conclusion). My credentials are presented further below.

However I would like to deal with one specific issue, using seawater to cool the reactor and reactor cooling, as this is within my area of expertise. Essentially the only thing that matters now is reactor cooling.

I am glad Debito displayed the original post. It has been interesting for me to watch others debate and react to this issue. I am flabbergasted that the Japanese government and TEPCO still call this a Level 5 incident. I believe it will end up being a Level 6, or if meltdown occurs, Level 7.

Regarding credentials; I have over 25 years experience as a registered professional engineer and have worked in the nuclear power industry. I have performed SSFI inspections (Safety System Functional Inspections) on several power plants and have performed one post accident investigation. My roles in the assessments related to the power distribution system for the reactor cooling system.

I have been discussing this issue with several colleagues, some of whom are top level experts in the nuclear industry and one who is in a position to have access to whatever information the U.S. government has. Because TEPCO has not been at all transparent and has been hesitant to issue any specific technical information on this disaster it is difficult to say for sure what is happening. We also have reason to believe that TEPCO or the government has not been completely forthright (for whatever reason) regarding radiation levels near the plant (but that is outside of my area of expertise).

One of the individuals I have been in contact with has been very accurate in predicting the events as they are unfolding. He was wrong in one of his predictions, that the situation would have resolved itself by now (either meltdown/melt through of the reactor pressure vessel of one of the units or restoration of station power).

We believe radiation is being released in three forms:

1. Slightly radioactive steam from the initial explosions. The initial explosions were caused when TEPCO vented the reactor pressure vessel, hydrogen was released and exploded.

2. Higher levels of radiation being released from burning fuel rods, especially in Unit 4, which was being used for spent fuel storage.

3. Higher levels of radiation from compromised containment in Unit 2 (and possibly other units) due to cracking or some other type of compromising of the containment. This was confirmed last Tuesday when TEPCO and the government reported the pressure in the reactor pressure vessel was at 1 atmosphere (the normal atmospheric pressure outside). Normally these are operating much higher. The fact that these units lost pressure indicates a crack or some type of other event that caused pressure to remain at atmospheric.

At this point the radiation being released is very serious and will undoubtedly cause deaths (most likely in the long term in the form of cancer) in the areas near the reactors (admitted yesterday by the head of TEPCO).

However, the level of radiation released if there is a meltdown of one reactor pressure vessel will dwarf the levels of radiation being released now (up to 10 x 10 to the 5th power higher). This is why cooling is imperative.

Below is our assessment of the situation (this is speculative because TEPCO has not released further information, which may lead us to draw more severe or less severe conclusions). I hope the situation is less severe and they have been able to provide at least minimally cooling.

We believe the cooling situation has become dire. We think at this point, barring a miracle, they clearly are not going to be able to establish any reasonable means of core cooling for the affected units before suffering severe core damage, which means the potential for large fission product release. The wind direction will be up to Mother Nature. The spent fuel pool fire is interesting and very troublesome. There are no barriers against fission product release if the spent fuel rods are involved in the fire. We don’t know the cause of the spent pool fire and nobody’s talking either, which may lead one to draw much more interesting conclusions which are too highly speculative for me to mention.

Below is a technical explanation upon which we base these conclusions.

The earthquake and tsunami caused a “perfect storm” event. That is total loss of onsite power, backup generation, utility station service power, and eventually a loss of DC power due to the fact that the AC power system was not available to charge the station batteries. This is an event that has not occurred before.

We believe that initially the plant did have some limited AC and DC power available, and thus could run pumps and operate valves. However, it appears that they were still unable to keep adequate water on the core. We believe that because of this the reactor pressure vessel (RPV) pressure was allowed to increase to a point that no available pumps had adequate discharge head to overcome the high static pressure in the PRV. In this case the pumps that were pumping try to pump but no water is going into the vessel. We believe with certainty that the most important pump, the High Pressure Coolant Injection (HPCI) pump was not and still is not available. This is a very big pump, 400 horsepower or bigger and is probably too big for the current power available. This pump is capable of dumping 6,000 gallons per minute of cooling water into the RPV.

When they were venting to atmosphere it was clear they were having problems reducing pressure by venting to the torus (which serves as a quench tank during an accident). This led us to believe that the torus was operating at saturated conditions, which means it is not possible to reduce pressure unless the steam bubble in the torus can be collapsed. Obviously they could not do this so they vented to atmosphere and the subsequent explosions occurred. The fact that these initial explosions occurred was due to the fact that hydrogen was vented from the RPV. The presence of hydrogen during the vent was almost certainly due to the fact that the fuel cladding was damaged and the process of a meltdown was in the early stages (likely started very late Friday night or early Saturday morning).

When the fuel cladding material (Zirconium) gets very hot in the presence of moisture it begins to breakdown and hydrogen is formed. The explosions at U1 and U3 were clearly very large, and thus indicative that the operators were venting large volumes of hydrogen gas (along with steam). Because of the magnitude of the explosions (especially Unit 3) this is unmistakably indication of partial melting and deformation of the fuel rod assemblies. This represents the first stage of “melt down.” The fact that the Unit 3 explosion was much, much stronger than Unit 1 indicates the melt down was continuing to get progressively worse. As this melting and deformation progress, the fuel material will eventually drop to the bottom of the RPV. This represents the next stage of meltdown in which the fuel then begins to corrode and melt through the RPV. When this phase of the accident is reached it’s time to clear out (which TEPCO has done, leaving only 50 people on site) since there remains only one of the three fission product barriers intact, the drywell containment structure. At this point we believe that fuel assembly damage has occurred for sure, the core has likely deformed and started to melt, and the process of melting through the RPV has started.

Once you melt down the RPV, you have a “meltdown”. This has not occurred yet, but is still a possible scenario. The only way to avert this is to cool the reactor.

Using seawater to cool the reactor as well as dumping water with helicopters and using water cannons are acts of desperation. Specifically the use of seawater contaminates the reactor cooling system and essentially makes all units scrap and virtually incapable of being reused (good these cannot be reused in my opinion). This is a decision not taken lightly by a utility such as TEPCO.

For your information the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued what they call a “generic letter” in 1988. In this generic letter, which I have sent to Debito-san, the NRC basically addressed this identical event (not tsunami, but total loss of grid power, station service, onsite generation, backup generation, and batteries) and recommended plants using GE Mark 1 reactors address this issue. This was 23 years ago and most or all plants in the U.S. have addressed this issue. It is obvious TEPCO did not with these units. The conclusions in the NRC letter are based on severe accident PRA analyses, which identified two critical areas for the older GE Mark 1 containments that should be improved.

• Alternate water supply to drywell spray & injection
• Better PRV depressurization capability

It is ironic that these were the 2 technical problems that were preventing the plants from reestablishing control in the initial stages of this incident. Had they been able to spray down the torus and drywell, thereby rapidly decreasing RPV and torus pressure, the low head pumps would likely have been available to cover the core. If this would have occurred, they probably would not have needed to resort to seawater injection.

Regarding the management of the situation I have my opinions but will withhold them until the final resolution is reached.

I read the article in the Daily Mail, showing Akio Komiri breaking down and finally admitting that the radiation levels are potentially lethal.



Source letter from United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued what they call a “generic letter” in 1988 (PDF, download, click below:)

Japanese cartoon for kids depicting Fukushima nuclear issue as power plants with constipation!


Hi Blog.  Here’s a novel way to explain away the entire Fukushima debacle — as a problem of backed-up nuclear waste.  See video below for kids depicting Fukushima as a constipated patient who can be cured by “doctors” and “medicine”.  Note how radiation is depicted as “farts”, merely amounting to “a bad smell”.  English subtitles included.

If only the diagnosis and cure were so simple. Or the metaphor more accurate.

Anyway, this is part of the process of lulling the Japanese public into complacency (keeping public calm and order as people in the path of the disaster merely wait for it to play itself out).  How much more distortion and deception can an educated people take?

Courtesy of JapanSugoi. Arudou Debito

Tokyo Gov Ishihara calls the tsunami “divine punishment” to wipe out the “egoism” of Japan. Need more evidence of his senility? Yet he’s running for election again.


IN APPROPRIATE, A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan, By ARUDOU Debito

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Hi Blog.  If you needed further evidence of already preternaturally-bigoted Tokyo Governor Ishihara’s creeping senility, get a load of this:


The Japan Times Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Ishihara sorry for quake gaffe

Kyodo News

Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara apologized Tuesday for his remark that the devastating earthquake and subsequent tsunami last week represented “divine punishment” of the Japanese people who have been tainted with egoism.

“I will take back (the remark) and offer a deep apology,” Ishihara said, adding that he should have thought about the feelings of the victims.

Miyagi Gov. Yoshihiro Murai showed displeasure with Ishihara, telling reporters he hopes the Tokyo governor will consider the people affected by the disaster.

“Japanese politics is tainted with egoism and populism. We need to use tsunami to wipe out egoism, which has rusted onto the mentality of Japanese over a long period of time,” Ishihara, who is seeking re-election for a fourth term on April 10, told reporters Monday. “I think (the disaster) is ‘tembatsu’ (divine punishment), although I feel sorry for disaster victims.”






(2011年3月15日06時18分  読売新聞)


COMMENT: This from a man who claimed in public a decade ago that foreigners in Japan would riot in the event of a natural disaster (er, such as this one?) and that the SDF should be deployed to round them up — and also questioned the kokutai loyalties of citizens who have foreign roots.  It seems this time, by issuing an unusual retraction (you think he’ll ever retract the foreigner riots claim now that it hasn’t happened?), he realized that this particular Senior Moment was going too far.

But this old fool has long lost the mental software governing prudence befitting a person in high office.  For a milder (but concrete) example, check out this video, where Ishihara gets all snitty because he was trying to make another speech about how the world was not going the way he wants it (when asked to offer a few seconds of encouragement to runners in this year’s Tokyo Marathon on February 27). Watch to the very end where you hear him characteristically grumbling about being cut off mid-rant:


(click on the link above to open video, courtesy Dave Spector)

Yet, as you read above, this 78-year-old is running once again for the Tokyo Governorship!

Some societies have a built-in conservative bent, but if the Tokyo electorate puts this decrepit bigoted coot back in office for yet another term, I will fear for the sanity of the Tokyo public.  We have mandatory retirement ages for Japanese bureaucrats.  We’ve even enforced them on some politicians (cf. former PMs Miyazawa and Nakasone, who were eliminated in 2003 despite re-election thanks to the LDP introducing an age limit of 73).  I think we should have them enforced in this case as well.  We need people who not only do not live in the past, but also live on this plane of existence.  Arudou Debito

NYT: Japan society puts up generational roadblocks, wastes potential of young


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Hi Blog.  Continuing with the recent theme of what reforms Japanese society needs to face the next century, here’s Martin Fackler from the NYT making the case about the structural barriers that waste the potential of youth in Japan.  Bit of a tangent, but not really.  Fresh ideas and entrepreneurial energy (regardless of nationality) should be welcomed as revitalizing, but as Fackler writes, the sclerotic is turning necrotic and people are seeking opportunities elsewhere. Arudou Debito


Generational Barriers
This series of articles examines the effects on Japanese society of two decades of economic stagnation and declining prices.

In Japan, Young Face Generational Roadblocks
The New York Times: January 27, 2011, courtesy lots of people

TOKYO — Kenichi Horie was a promising auto engineer, exactly the sort of youthful talent Japan needs to maintain its edge over hungry Korean and Chinese rivals. As a worker in his early 30s at a major carmaker, Mr. Horie won praise for his design work on advanced biofuel systems.
The Great Deflation

But like many young Japanese, he was a so-called irregular worker, kept on a temporary staff contract with little of the job security and half the salary of the “regular” employees, most of them workers in their late 40s or older. After more than a decade of trying to gain regular status, Mr. Horie finally quit — not just the temporary jobs, but Japan altogether.

He moved to Taiwan two years ago to study Chinese.

“Japanese companies are wasting the young generations to protect older workers,” said Mr. Horie, now 36. “In Japan, they closed the doors on me. In Taiwan, they tell me I have a perfect résumé.”

As this fading economic superpower rapidly grays, it desperately needs to increase productivity and unleash the entrepreneurial energies of its shrinking number of younger people. But Japan seems to be doing just the opposite. This has contributed to weak growth and mounting pension obligations, major reasons Standard & Poor’s downgraded Japan’s sovereign debt rating on Thursday.

“There is a feeling among young generations that no matter how hard we try, we can’t get ahead,” said Shigeyuki Jo, 36, co-author of “The Truth of Generational Inequalities.” “Every avenue seems to be blocked, like we’re butting our heads against a wall.”

An aging population is clogging the nation’s economy with the vested interests of older generations, young people and social experts warn, making an already hierarchical society even more rigid and conservative. The result is that Japan is holding back and marginalizing its youth at a time when it actually needs them to help create the new products, companies and industries that a mature economy requires to grow.

A nation that produced Sony, Toyota and Honda has failed in recent decades to nurture young entrepreneurs, and the game-changing companies that they can create, like Google or Apple — each started by entrepreneurs in their 20s.

Employment figures underscore the second-class status of many younger Japanese. While Japan’s decades of stagnation have increased the number of irregular jobs across all age groups, the young have been hit the hardest.

Last year, 45 percent of those ages 15 to 24 in the work force held irregular jobs, up from 17.2 percent in 1988 and as much as twice the rate among workers in older age groups, who cling tenaciously to the old ways. Japan’s news media are now filled with grim accounts of how university seniors face a second “ice age” in the job market, with just 56.7 percent receiving job offers before graduation as of October 2010 — an all-time low.

“Japan has the worst generational inequality in the world,” said Manabu Shimasawa, a professor of social policy at Akita University who has written extensively on such inequalities. “Japan has lost its vitality because the older generations don’t step aside, allowing the young generations a chance to take new challenges and grow.”

Disparities and Dangers

While many nations have aging populations, Japan’s demographic crisis is truly dire, with forecasts showing that 40 percent of the population will be 65 and over by 2055. Some of the consequences have been long foreseen, like deflation: as more Japanese retire and live off their savings, they spend less, further depressing Japan’s anemic levels of domestic consumption. But a less anticipated outcome has been the appearance of generational inequalities.

These disparities manifest themselves in many ways. As Mr. Horie discovered, there are corporations that hire all too many young people for low-paying, dead-end jobs — in effect, forcing them to shoulder the costs of preserving cushier jobs for older employees. Others point to an underfinanced pension system so skewed in favor of older Japanese that many younger workers simply refuse to pay; a “silver democracy” that spends far more on the elderly than on education and child care — an issue that is familiar to Americans; and outdated hiring practices that have created a new “lost generation” of disenfranchised youth.

Nagisa Inoue, a senior at Tokyo’s Meiji University, said she was considering paying for a fifth year at her university rather than graduating without a job, an outcome that in Japan’s rigid job market might permanently taint her chances of ever getting a higher-paying corporate job. That is because Japanese companies, even when they do offer stable, regular jobs, prefer to give them only to new graduates, who are seen as the more malleable candidates for molding into Japan’s corporate culture.

And the irony, Ms. Inoue said, is that she does not even want to work at a big corporation. She would rather join a nonprofit environmental group, but that would also exclude her from getting a so-called regular job.

“I’d rather have the freedom to try different things,” said Ms. Inoue, 22. “But in Japan, the costs of doing something different are just too high.”

Many social experts say a grim economy has added to the pressures to conform to Japan’s outdated, one-size-fits-all employment system. An online survey by students at Meiji University of people across Japan ages 18 to 22 found that two-thirds felt that youths did not take risks or new challenges, and that they instead had become a generation of “introverts” who were content or at least resigned to living a life without ambition.

“There is a mismatch between the old system and the young generations,” said Yuki Honda, a professor of education at the University of Tokyo. “Many young Japanese don’t want the same work-dominated lifestyles of their parents’ generation, but they have no choices.”

Facing a rising public uproar, the Welfare Ministry responded late last year by advising employers to recognize someone as a new graduate for up to three years after graduation. It also offers subsidies of up to 1.8 million yen, or about $22,000 per person, to large companies that offer so-called regular jobs to new graduates.

But perhaps nowhere are the roadblocks to youthful enterprise so evident, and the consequences to the Japanese economy so dire, as in the failure of entrepreneurship.

The nation had just 19 initial public offerings in 2009, according to Tokyo-based Next Company, compared with 66 in the United States. More telling is that even Japan’s entrepreneurs are predominantly from older generations: according to the Trade Ministry, just 9.1 percent of Japanese entrepreneurs in 2002 were in their 20s, compared with 25 percent in the United States.

“Japan has become a zero-sum game,” said Yuichiro Itakura, a failed Internet entrepreneur who wrote a book about his experience. “Established interests are afraid a young newcomer will steal what they have, so they won’t do business with him.”

Many Japanese economists and policy makers have long talked of fostering entrepreneurship as the best remedy for Japan’s economic ills. And it is an idea that has a historical precedent here: as the nation rose from the ashes of World War II, young Japanese entrepreneurs produced a host of daring start-ups that overturned entire global industries.

Entrepreneur’s Rise and Fall

But many here say that Japan’s economy has ossified since its glory days, and that the nation now produces few if any such innovative companies. To understand why, many here point to the fate of one of the nation’s best-known Internet tycoons, Takafumi Horie.

When he burst onto the national scene early in the last decade, he was the most un-Japanese of business figures: an impish young man in his early 30s who wore T-shirts into boardrooms, brazenly flouted the rules by starting hostile takeovers and captured an era when a rejuvenated Japanese economy seemed to finally be rebounding. He was arrested five years ago and accused of securities fraud in what seemed a classic case of comeuppance, with the news media demonizing him as a symbol of an unsavory, freewheeling American-style capitalism.

In 2007, a court found him guilty of falsifying company records, a ruling that he is appealing. But in dozens of interviews, young Japanese brought him up again and again as a way of explaining their generation’s malaise. To them, he symbolized something very different: a youthful challenger who was crushed by a reactionary status quo. His arrest, they said, was a warning to all of them not to rock the boat.

“It was a message that it is better to quietly and obediently follow the established conservative order,” Mr. Horie, now 37, wrote in an e-mail.

He remains for many a popular, if almost subversive figure in Japan, where he is once again making waves by unrepentantly battling the charges in court, instead of meekly accepting the judgment, as do most of those arrested. He now has more than a half-million followers on Twitter, more than the prime minister, and publicly urges people to challenge the system.

“Horie has been the closest thing we had to a role model,” said Noritoshi Furuichi, a 25-year-old graduate student at the University of Tokyo who wrote a book about how young Japanese were able to remain happy while losing hope. “He represents a struggle between old Japan and new Japan.”

Mr. Furuichi and many other young Japanese say that young people here do not react with anger or protest, instead blaming themselves and dropping out, or with an almost cheerful resignation, trying to find contentment with horizons that are far more limited than their parents’.

In such an atmosphere, young politicians say it is hard to mobilize their generation to get interested in politics.

Ryohei Takahashi was a young city council member in the Tokyo suburb of Ichikawa who joined a group of other young politicians and activists in issuing a “Youth Manifesto,” which urged younger Japanese to stand up for their interests.

In late 2009, he made a bid to become the city’s mayor on a platform of shifting more spending toward young families and education. However, few younger people showed an interest in voting, and he ended up trying to cater to the city’s most powerful voting blocs: retirees and local industries like construction, all dominated by leaders in their 50s and 60s.

“Aging just further empowers older generations,” said Mr. Takahashi, 33. “In sheer numbers, they win hands down.”

He lost the election, which he called a painful lesson that Japan was becoming a “silver democracy,” where most budgets and spending heavily favored older generations.

Social experts say the need to cut soaring budget deficits means that younger Japanese will never receive the level of benefits enjoyed by retirees today. Calculations show that a child born today can expect to receive up to $1.2 million less in pensions, health care and other government spending over the course of his life than someone retired today; in the national pension system alone, this gap reaches into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Abandoning the System

The result is that young Japanese are fleeing the program in droves: half of workers below the age of 35 now fail to make their legally mandated payments, even though that means they must face the future with no pension at all. “In France, the young people take to the streets,” Mr. Takahashi said. “In Japan, they just don’t pay.”

Or they drop out, as did many in Japan’s first “lost generation” a decade ago.

One was Kyoko, who was afraid to give her last name for fear it would further damage her job prospects. Almost a decade ago, when she was a junior at Waseda University here, she was expected to follow postwar Japan’s well-trodden path to success by finding a job at a top corporation. She said she started off on the right foot, trying to appear enthusiastic at interviews without being strongly opinionated — the balance that appeals to Japanese employers, who seek hard-working conformists.

But after interviewing at 10 companies, she said she suffered a minor nervous breakdown, and stopped. She said she realized that she did not want to become an overworked corporate warrior like her father.

By failing to get such a job before graduating, Kyoko was forced to join the ranks of the “freeters” — an underclass of young people who hold transient, lower-paying irregular jobs. Since graduating in 2004 she has held six jobs, none of them paying unemployment insurance, pension or a monthly salary of more than 150,000 yen, or about $1,800.

“I realized that wasn’t who I wanted to be,” recalled Kyoko, now 29. “But why has being myself cost me so dearly?”

A version of this article appeared in print on January 28, 2011, on page A1 of the New York edition.


Japan Times on what needs to be deregulated for Japan’s future as an Asian business hub


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Hi Blog.  Sorry to veer away from the ghoulish debacle that is Ichihashi’s currying and publisher Gentosha Inc’s profiteering, but let me continue with something a bit more pragmatic — Japan’s need to open up as a regional business hub and how that’s not being allowed to happen properly.  Arudou Debito


The Japan Times, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011 (excerpt)
So you want Japan to be a true Asian business hub?
By ROBERTO DE VIDO, Yokosuka, Kanagawa, courtesy of DK

Full article at

Dear Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Banri Kaieda: Last month your ministry published “Current Policies to Make Japan Asia’s Center for Business.”

In the PowerPoint presentation available on your website, you note that from 2007 to 2009 Japan slipped badly as an Asian business investment destination for Western and Asian companies, while unsurprisingly, China made huge gains.

Now we all know there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics, but these are your statistics, so presumably you’ve had your people present these numbers in the best possible light.

As a possible location for an Asian headquarters, Japan slid from second among six countries to a tie with India for fourth. Only South Korea is viewed as less attractive….

What do those companies need from you in addition to a secure environment in which to develop intellectual property? They need locations in Japan that are convenient to airports that provide access to a broad swath of Chinese cities. They’d also like those locations to be relatively near to urban centers that offer employees attractive housing, dining and entertainment options.

They need those tax breaks you’ve offered, but they need greater assurance from your government that the deals they cut in establishing operations here will last longer than, well, your party’s likely tenure in power. The cost of setting up a regional research and development center makes the tax holiday you’re offering a very minor inducement, especially as your offer has an imminent expiration date.

They need immigration policies that will let them decide what employees are required to staff their facility, and if you run into your counterparts at the ministries of education and justice, you might let them know that English- and other foreign language-speakers may be required, which may disqualify many of the Japanese citizens you’d like to see get jobs. And of course, they’ll need a streamlined visa procedure for any foreign workers, even if those workers are brown-skinned Asians.

They need you to create a business environment that is quickly and easily navigable by foreigners, i.e. in English, and that is, above all, flexible. Businesses need to be able to do whatever they need to do to operate, survive and thrive, without stumbling over bureaucratic obstacles all the time.

What they don’t need, Minister, is a Japan “that can say ‘no.’ ” Business investors need to hear “yes” and “no problem” and “we can get that done for you yesterday.”

You can do it, I’m sure, and your efforts will pay large economic dividends for decades to come.

Roberto De Vido is a founder of Near Futures, which provides community development assessment and solutions services to communities and businesses in Japan. He can be reached at



Over here!
Japan’s government is trying to attract business investment. Really, Japanese business Jan 13th 2011 | TOKYO | from PRINT EDITION

WHEN the Japanese government revealed a hefty “new growth strategy” in June, the response was sceptical. Yomiuri Shimbun, the country’s biggest newspaper, relished reporting the “21 key national strategy projects” and “about 330 policy items” up for change. They ranged from promoting clean energy and overseas infrastructure projects to attracting medical tourists and foreign firms.

Since then the ruling Democratic Party of Japan has continued to falter. The popularity of the prime minister, Naoto Kan, has sunk as low as 21%, curtailing his ability to push reforms. And the government has placed the most controversial ideas on hold, at least publicly. Yet substantial changes are quietly taking place, a few of which have already borne fruit.

The most prominent change is in tax policy. Politicians have talked for years about lowering the corporate tax rate, at 40% the highest in the rich world. Companies argue they cannot compete against rivals in countries like South Korea, where the tax is just 24%. Last month Mr Kan promised to slash five percentage points off the tax in the 2011 budget, which goes before parliament in March.

To encourage overseas companies to set up regional headquarters and research facilities, the trade ministry is also proposing to lower the combined national and local tax on foreign firms to between 20% and 29% for five years. Long accused of giving subtle, preferential treatment to domestic players, Japan is poised to discriminate openly in favour of foreigners.

The government has stepped up its economic diplomacy, too. Having lost two large nuclear-power contracts in 2009 and 2010 to Russian and South Korean bidders with strong government backing, Japan has put its politicians on the road. This month ministers have hawked high-speed trains in Florida and touted a water-treatment facility in Riyadh. A state-backed lender, the Japan Bank for International Co-operation (JBIC), has opened the financing spigot. Such efforts seem to be paying off. Vietnam has said it will turn to Japanese technology for the second phase of its nuclear programme, which is worth about ¥1 trillion ($12 billion). Turkey, heavily lobbied by Japan, is in talks to conclude a nuclear-power contract that had been expected to go to South Korea.

As an aged, technologically advanced country, Japan ought to be a global leader in medical care. On January 7th the government established a department within the Cabinet Office to enhance the competitiveness of Japan’s medical business, including research, devices and drugs. It has also created a new six-month medical visa for foreigners and their caregivers that is designed to draw health tourists.

Overall, the government wants to create 5m new jobs by 2020, rake in ¥118 trillion, and bump GDP growth up to more than 3% from its long-term average of 1%. That appears unrealistic. Even after cuts, Japan’s corporate taxes are still far higher than in other countries. And it is not clear that the government will have the clout to push through the toughest initiatives, such as joining a regional free-trade agreement.

Still, the fact that some action has taken place counts as a positive sign. It marks a remarkable maturation for the DPJ, which strode into office 16 months ago clutching a sheaf of anti-business policies such as reversing the privatisation of the post office (the world’s biggest bank by deposits), creating a three-year debt moratorium for small firms and introducing unwieldy targets for carbon-emission reduction. But crisis eventually concentrates minds.

from PRINT EDITION | Business

ENDS offers microcosm of Nagasaki as example of Japan’s urban decline


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Hi Blog. The Economist last week had quite a bleak article about Nagasaki, and used it as an example of Japan’s urban decline. Of course, it hints at the possibility of urban renewal through influxes of people (using the oft-cited policy panacea of “foreign students“). But again, not immigration. As far as is concerned, the best bit of the article is:

Can Nagasaki pull out of the spiral? Historically, after all, the city is Japan’s most open, allowing in Dutch and Chinese merchants in the 17th-19th centuries when foreign trade with the rest of the country was banned. Nagasaki is one of the closest cities to China and South Korea, with opportunities for tourism and trade. The museum to the atom bomb and its victims is world famous. Nagasaki is the birthplace of Japanese Christianity. It was a cradle of insurrection against the last shogunate, helping to shove Japan into the modern age with the Meiji Restoration of 1868.

To reverse the decline, Mr Sato has drawn up a plan with local officials that looks for overseas revenues to make up for falling domestic ones. That is hardly revolutionary. Among the goals are doubling numbers of foreign students, to 3,000; turning the shipyard into a tourist site; and bolstering sales of kamaboko, a rubbery fishcake. But asked about bolder measures such as encouraging foreign investment and skilled immigrants, Mr Sato says there is “not the right environment” for that yet.

Still wondering if the “yet” ever expires, even as things go down and down. Arudou Debito

Full article follows:

The alarm bells of Nagasaki
Japan’s “window on the world” is now a window on what ails the country
Urban decline in Japan Jan 13th 2011 | NAGASAKI | from PRINT EDITION

AT 60, Hiroshi Ikeguchi wryly describes himself as one of the youngest in his district. He has lived his whole life in Irifune, just above the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries shipyard. But like his ageing neighbours, the Nagasaki suburb is collapsing around him. A dozen houses have been left to rot after their owners have died. Some are piles of timber; in others, katsura trees grow through the roofs. Outside one is a new year’s offering of fruit left by a neighbour who still laments how the death of the “kind old lady” who lived there went undiscovered for a week. Peer through the letterbox, and in the gloom you see a calendar pinned to the wall. The date is September 1988.

In Mr Ikeguchi’s youth, when Nagasaki was rebuilding itself after nuclear devastation in 1945, the streets near his house rang with the sound of shipwrights walking to the Mitsubishi yard each morning. Now Nagasaki’s economy has gone still. The port city’s fortunes show how three forces sapping Japan’s energies—depopulation, overcentralisation and foreign competition—are hurting not just rural backwaters but once-prosperous cities on Japan’s fringe. The phenomenon remains partly hidden. Residents of luxury apartments across the bay complain about Irifune’s shabby appearance. If only they knew, Mr Ikeguchi says, how bad it really is.

Nagasaki’s troubles are self-reinforcing, argues Takamitsu Sato, president of the Nagasaki Economic Research Institute. Since the 1960s a brain drain has sucked people towards Osaka and Tokyo. Young people who left to find jobs elsewhere never came back. Even now, seven in ten college students leave to study, and over half of young people find jobs elsewhere.

The brain drain reinforces a demographic trend. The prefecture’s working-age population has shrunk from over 1m in 1990 to 874,000 in 2008, a result both of the exodus and a declining birth rate. The prefecture of 1.45m is shrinking and ageing so fast that one of Nagasaki’s main department stores, Tamaya, has closed down its children’s department and stocked up on undergarments and hearing aids. With shrinking investment, and fewer jobs and young families, new house-building has fallen by half in the past ten years.

So now Nagasaki’s living standards are falling too, a shock in a country where economists said that individuals could be better off even if the overall economy shrank in size. Mr Sato’s institute reckons that if today’s trends continue, GDP per person will fall from ¥3.26m ($28,000) in 2007 to ¥3.14m by 2020. Everything, he says, is going downward.

Can Nagasaki pull out of the spiral? Historically, after all, the city is Japan’s most open, allowing in Dutch and Chinese merchants in the 17th-19th centuries when foreign trade with the rest of the country was banned. Nagasaki is one of the closest cities to China and South Korea, with opportunities for tourism and trade. The museum to the atom bomb and its victims is world famous. Nagasaki is the birthplace of Japanese Christianity. It was a cradle of insurrection against the last shogunate, helping to shove Japan into the modern age with the Meiji Restoration of 1868.

To reverse the decline, Mr Sato has drawn up a plan with local officials that looks for overseas revenues to make up for falling domestic ones. That is hardly revolutionary. Among the goals are doubling numbers of foreign students, to 3,000; turning the shipyard into a tourist site; and bolstering sales of kamaboko, a rubbery fishcake. But asked about bolder measures such as encouraging foreign investment and skilled immigrants, Mr Sato says there is “not the right environment” for that yet.

Meanwhile, Nagasaki’s once-mighty shipping industry has been keelhauled by South Korean and Chinese yards with lower costs and quicker thinking. And Mr Ikeguchi says that even modest government initiatives, like demolishing abandoned houses in Irifune to attract newcomers, take years to grind through city hall.

Like the elders of Nagasaki, the prime minister, Naoto Kan, realises that Japan must look abroad since its own markets are shrinking. At the start of 2011, he declared (143 years after the fact, some might say) that this was the “first year of opening Japan to the outside world” in the modern era. Nagasaki is a good example of why action needs to be swift and bold.

Correction: 1.45m people live in the prefecture of Nagasaki, not the city as we originally wrote. This was corrected on January 18th 2011.


NY Consulate Japan’s Kawamura Yasuhisa offers more rosy picture of immigration to Japan in NYT Letter to the Editor


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Hi Blog. As is good gaiatsu media policy, when we have somebody saying something discomfiting about Japan in overseas media, the GOJ’s Gaijin Handlers will step in to present the “Official View” (would be interesting if, say, the USG did more of that in Japan’s media).

Here’s the Japan Consulate in New York doing just that, with Mr. Kawamura earning his keep by presenting in the NYT the preferred image of Japan overseas — not of a country with policies that do not encourage NJ to stay and become immigrants, but rather of a country that seems more welcoming.

Even though he says in the opening and infers in the closing that foreign labor (not immigration, again) is of questionable suitability for “our” economy. And let’s neglect to mention the first drop in the NJ population for nearly a half-century in 2009. Besides, we have the “vaporware” policy of doubling some other numbers of temporary influx (students and foreign workers (not immigrants) — again, under policies no doubt that encourage people to give the best years of their working lives to us and then be sent “home” despite their investments). I think the concluding sentence offers the biggest lie: Japan will not “continue to find” the best policy mix, but will “continue to search for”.

(BTW, the original title of the article was, “Its Workers Aging, Japan Turns Away Immigrants”.  Yet within 48 hours it was was mysteriously softened to “Despite Shortage, Japan Keeps a High Wall for Foreign Labor”.  Seems the gaiatsu has made the word “immigration” a taboo topic for overseas newspapers too.)

Have a beer, Mr. Kawamura. You’ve discharged your duty well. Arudou Debito


Foreign Workers in Japan: An Official View
The New York Times, published January 18, 2011
Courtesy JLO

To the Editor:

Despite Shortage, Japan Keeps a High Wall for Foreign Labor” (“The Great Deflation” series, front page, Jan. 3) oversimplifies a complex situation and seems to present foreign labor as a cure-all for Japan’s aging and declining population.

The article also appears to embrace clichés about Japanese homogeneity without pointing out recent policy changes. Japan is not walling itself off; quite the opposite is true.

In its new growth strategy, the Japanese government recognized the value of skilled foreign workers and their contributions to economic growth. Japan aims to double its skilled foreign work force by 2020 and to double the number of students from abroad that it welcomes, up to 300,000.

This policy reinforces the encouraging growth in the number of registered foreign residents. Despite a recent drop noted in your article, over the past 10 years registered foreigners in Japan have increased by almost 40 percent (from 1.6 million to 2.2 million). Japan faces tough economic and demographic challenges. But Japan will continue to find the policy mix that works best for our society and our economy.

Yasuhisa Kawamura
Director, Japan Information Center
Consulate General of Japan
New York, Jan. 14, 2011


Japan Times JBC/ZG Column Jan 4, 2010: “Arudou’s Alien Almanac 2000-2010” (Director’s Cut)


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The Japan Times, Tuesday, January 4, 2011
DRAFT NINE, VERSION AS SUBMITTED TO EDITOR (Director’s Cut, including text cut out of published article)

Download Top Ten for 2010 at
Download Top Ten for 2000-2010 at
Download entire newsprint page as PDF with excellent Chris Mackenzie illustrations (recommended) at

It’s that time again, when the JUST BE CAUSE column ranks the notable events of last year that affected Non-Japanese (NJ) in Japan. This time it’s a double feature, also ranking the top events of the past decade.


5) THE OTARU ONSENS CASE (1999-2005)

This lawsuit followed the landmark Ana Bortz case of 1999, where a Brazilian plaintiff sued and won against a jewelry store in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, that denied her entry for looking foreign. Since Japan has no national law against racial discrimination, the Bortz case found that United Nations Convention on Racial Discrimination (CERD), which Japan signed in 1995, has the force of law instead. The Otaru case (Just Be Cause, Jun. 3, 2008) (in which, full disclosure, your correspondent was one plaintiff) attempted to apply penalties not only to an exclusionary bathhouse in Otaru, Hokkaido, but also to the Otaru city government for negligence. Results: Sapporo’s district and high courts both ruled the bathhouse must pay damages to multiple excluded patrons. The city government, however, was exonerated.

WHY THIS MATTERS: Although our government has repeatedly said to the U.N. that “racial discrimination” does not exist in Japan (“discrimination against foreigners” exists, but bureaucrats insist this is not covered by the CERD (JBC, Jun. 2, 2009)), the Otaru case proved it does, establishing a cornerstone for any counterargument. However, the Supreme Court in 2005 ruled the Otaru case was “not a constitutional issue,” thereby exposing the judiciary’s unwillingness to penalize discrimination expressly forbidden by Japan’s Constitution. Regardless, the case built on the Bortz precedent, setting standards for NJ seeking court redress for discrimination (providing you don’t try to sue the government). It also helped stem a tide of “Japanese Only” signs spreading nationwide, put up by people who felt justified by events like:


Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara set the tone this decade with a calamitous diatribe to the Nerima Ground Self Defense Forces (ZG, Dec. 18, 2007), claiming that NJ (including “sangokujin,” a derogatory term for former citizens of the Japanese Empire) were in Japan “repeatedly committing heinous crimes.” Ishihara called on the SDF to round foreigners up during natural disasters in case they rioted (something, incidentally, that has never happened).

WHY THIS MATTERS: A leader of a world city pinned a putative crime wave on NJ (even though most criminal activity in Japan, both numerically and proportionately, has been homegrown (ZG, Feb. 20, 2007)) and even offered discretionary policing power to the military, yet he has kept his office to this day. This speech made it undisputedly clear that Ishihara’s governorship would be a bully pulpit, and Tokyo would be his turf to campaign against crime — meaning against foreigners. This event emboldened other Japanese politicians to vilify NJ for votes, and influenced government policy at the highest levels with the mantra “heinous crimes by bad foreigners.” Case in point:


Once re-elected to his second term, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi got right down to business targeting NJ. No fewer than three Cabinet members in their opening policy statements mentioned foreign crime, one stressing that his goal was “making Japan the world’s safest country again” — meaning, again, safe from foreigners (ZG, Oct. 7, 2003).

WHY THIS MATTERS: Despite being one of Japan’s most acclaimed prime ministers, Koizumi’s record toward NJ residents was dismal. Policies promulgated “for the recovery of public safety” explicitly increased the peace for kokumin (Japanese nationals) at the expense of NJ residents. In 2005, the “Action Plan for Pre-Empting Terrorism” (ZG, May 24, 2005) portrayed tero as an international phenomenon (ignoring homegrown examples), officially upgrading NJ from mere criminals to terrorists. Of course, the biggest beneficiaries of this bunker mentality were the police, who found their powers enhanced thusly:

2) THE POLICE CRACKDOWNS ON NJ (1999- present)

After May 1999, when their “Policy Committee Against Internationalization” (sic) was launched, the National Police Agency found ample funding for policies targeting NJ expressly as criminals, terrorists and “carriers of infectious diseases.” From NPA posters depicting NJ as illegal laborers, members of international criminal organizations and violent, heinous crooks, campaigns soon escalated to ID checks for cycling while foreign (ZG, Jun. 20, 2002), public “snitch sites” (where even today anyone can anonymously rat on any NJ for alleged visa violations (ZG, Mar. 30, 2004)), increased racial profiling on the street and on public transportation, security cameras in “hotbeds of foreign crime” and unscientific “foreigner indexes” applied to forensic crime scene evidence (ZG, Jan. 13, 2004).

Not only were crackdowns on visa overstayers (i.e., on crimes Japanese cannot by definition commit) officially linked to rises in overall crime, but also mandates reserved for the Immigration Bureau were privatized: Hotels were told by police to ignore the actual letter of the law (which required only tourists be checked) and review every NJ’s ID at check-in (ZG, Mar. 8, 2005). Employers were required to check their NJ employees’ visa status and declare their wages to government agencies (ZG, Nov. 13, 2007). SDF members with foreign spouses were “removed from sensitive posts” (ZG, Aug. 28, 2007). Muslims and their friends automatically became al-Qaida suspects, spied on and infiltrated by the Tokyo Metropolitan Police (ZG, Nov. 9).

There were also orgiastic spending frenzies in the name of international security, e.g., World Cup 2002 and the 2008 Toyako G-8 Summit (JBC, Jul. 1, 2008). Meanwhile, NJ fingerprinting, abolished by the government in 1999 as a “violation of human rights,” was reinstated with a vengeance at the border in 2007. Ultimately, however, the NPA found itself falsifying its data to keep its budgets justified — claiming increases even when NJ crime and overstaying went down (ZG, Feb. 20, 2007). Hence, power based upon fear of the foreigner had become an addiction for officialdom, and few Japanese were making a fuss because they thought it didn’t affect them. They were wrong.

WHY THIS MATTERS: The NPA already has strong powers of search, seizure, interrogation and incarceration granted them by established practice. However, denying human rights to a segment of the population has a habit of then affecting everyone else (ZG, Jul. 8, 2008). Japanese too are now being stopped for bicycle ID checks and bag searches under the same justifications proffered to NJ. Police security cameras — once limited to Tokyo “foreigner zones” suchas Kabukicho, Ikebukuro and Roppongi — are proliferating nationwide. Policing powers are growing stronger because human rights protections have been undermined by precedents set by anti-foreigner policies. Next up: Laws preventing NJ from owning certain kinds of properties for “security reasons,” further tracking of international money transfers, and IC-chipped “gaijin cards” readable from a distance (ZG, May 19, 2009).


For the first time in 48 years, the number of foreigners living in Japan went down. This could be a temporary blip due to the Nikkei repatriation bribe of 2009-2010 (ZG, Apr. 7, 2009), when the government offered goodbye money only to foreigners with Japanese blood. Since 1990, more than a million Brazilians and Peruvians of Japanese ancestry have come here on special visas to help keep Japan’s industries humming cheaply. Now tens of thousands are pocketing the bribe and going back, giving up their pensions and becoming somebody else’s unemployment statistic.

WHY THIS MATTERS: NJ numbers will eventually rise again, but the fact that they are going down for the first time in generations is disastrous. For this doesn’t just affect NJ – it affects everyone in Japan. A decade ago, both the U.N. and Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi stated that Japan needs 600,000 NJ a year net influx just to maintain its taxpayer base and current standard of living. Yet a decade later, things are going in exactly the opposite way.

It should be no surprise: Japan has become markedly unfriendly these past ten years. Rampant and unbalanced NJ-bashing have shifted Japanese society’s image of foreigner from “misunderstood guest and outsider” to “social bane and criminal.” Why would anyone want to move here and make a life under these conditions?

Despite this, everyone knows that public debt is rising while the Japanese population is aging and dropping. Japan’s very economic vitality depends on demographics. Yet the only thing that can save Japan – a clear and fair policy towards immigration – is taboo for discussion (JBC, Nov. 3, 2009). Even after two decades of economic doldrums, it is still unclear whether Japan has either the sense or the mettle to pull itself up from its nosedive.

The facts of life: NJ will ultimately come to Japan, even if it means that all they find is an elderly society hanging on by its fingernails, or just an empty island. Let’s hope Japan next decade comes to its senses, figuring out not only how to make life here more attractive for NJ, but also how to make foreigners into Japanese.


Bubbling under for the decade: U.N. Rapporteur Doudou Diene’s 2005 and 2006 visits to Japan, where he called discrimination in Japan “deep and profound” (ZG, Jun. 27, 2006); Japan’s unsuccessful 2006 bid for a U.N. Security Council seat—the only leverage the U.N. has over Japan to follow international treaty; the demise of the racist “Gaijin Hanzai” magazine and its publisher thanks to NJ grassroots protests (ZG, Mar. 20, 2007); the “Hamamatsu Sengen” and other statements by local governments calling for nicer policies towards NJ (ZG, Jun. 3, 2008); the domination of NJ wrestlers in sumo; the withering of fundamental employers of NJ, including Japan’s export factories and the eikaiwa industry (ZG, Dec. 11, 2007).




Japanese politicians with international roots are few but not unprecedented. But Taiwanese-Japanese Diet member Renho’s ascension to the Cabinet as minister for administrative reforms has been historic. Requiring the bureaucrats to justify their budgets (famously asking last January, “Why must we aim to develop the world’s number one supercomputer? What’s wrong with being number two?”), she has been Japan’s most vocal policy reformer.

WHY THIS MATTERS: Few reformers are brave enough to withstand the national sport of politician-bashing, especially when exceptionally cruel criticism began targeting Renho’s ethnic background. Far-rightist Diet member Takeo Hiranuma questioned her very loyalty by saying, “She’s not originally Japanese.” (Just Be Cause, Feb. 2) Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara expanded the focus by claiming people in the ruling coalition had foreign backgrounds, therefore were selling Japan out as a “duty to their ancestors” (JBC, May 4). Fortunately, it did not matter. In last July’s elections, Renho garnered a record 1.7 million votes in her constituency, and retained her Cabinet post regardless of her beliefs, or roots.


After all the bad blood between these strikingly similar societies, Japan’s motion to be nice to South Korea was remarkably easy. No exploitable technicalities about the apology being unofficial, or merely the statements of an individual leader (as was seen in Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama’s apologies for war misdeeds, or Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono’s “statement” about “comfort women” – itself a euphemism for war crimes) — just a prime minister using the opportunity of a centennial to formally apologize for Japan’s colonial rule of Korea, backed up by a good-faith return of war spoils.

WHY THIS MATTERS: At a time when crime, terrorism and other social ills in Japan are hastily pinned on the outside world, these honest and earnest reckonings with history are essential for Japan to move on from a fascist past and strengthen ties with the neighbors. Every country has events in its history to be sorry for. Continuous downplaying — if not outright denial by nationalistic elites — of Japan’s conduct within its former empire will not foster improved relations and economic integration. This applies especially as Asia gets richer and needs Japan less, as witnessed through:


Despite a year of bashing Chinese, the government brought in planeloads of them to revitalize our retail economy. Aiming for 10 million visitors this year, Japan lowered visa thresholds for individual Chinese to the point where they came in record numbers, spending, according to the People’s Daily, 160,000 yen per person in August.

WHY THIS MATTERS: Wealthy Chinese gadding about while Japan faced decreasing salaries caused some bellyaching. Our media (displaying amnesia about Bubble Japan’s behavior) kvetched that Chinese were patronizing Chinese businesses in Japan and keeping the money in-house (Yomiuri, May 25), Chinese weren’t spending enough on tourist destinations (Asahi, Jun. 16), Chinese were buying out Japanese companies and creating “Chapan” (Nikkei Business, Jun. 21), or that Chinese were snapping up land and threatening Japan’s security (The Japan Times, Dec. 18). The tone changed this autumn, however, when regional tensions flared, so along with the jingoism we had Japanese politicians and boosters flying to China to smooth things over and keep the consumers coming.

Let’s face it: Japan was once bigger than all the other Asian economies combined. But that was then — 2010 was also the year China surpassed Japan as the world’s second-largest economy. Japan can no longer ignore Asian investment. No nationalistic whining is going to change that. Next up: longer-duration visas for India.


The ruling coalition sponsored a bill last year granting suffrage in local elections to NJ with permanent residency (ZG, Feb. 23) — an uncharacteristically xenophilic move for Japan. True to form, however, nationalists came out of the rice paddies to deafen the public with scare tactics (e.g., Japan would be invaded by Chinese, who would migrate to sparsely-populated Japanese islands and vote to secede, etc.). They then linked NJ suffrage with other “fin-de-Japon” pet peeves, such as foreign crime, North Korean abductions of Japanese, dual nationality, separate surnames after marriage, and even sex education.

WHY THIS MATTERS: The campaign resonated. Months after PR suffrage was moribund, xenophobes were still getting city and prefectural governments to pass resolutions in opposition. Far-rightists used it as a political football in election campaigns to attract votes and portray the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) as inept.

They had a point: How could the DPJ sponsor such a controversial bill and not rally behind it as criticisms arose? Where were the potential supporters and spokespeople for the bill, such as naturalized Diet member Marutei Tsurunen? Why were the xenophobes basically the only voice heard during the debate, setting the agenda and talking points? This policy blunder will be a huge setback for future efforts to promote human rights for and integration of NJ residents.

Bubbling under for the year: Oita High Court rules that NJ have no automatic right to welfare benefits; international pressure builds on Japan to sign the Hague Convention on Child Abduction; Tokyo Metropolitan Police spy on Muslims and fumble their secret files to publishers; America’s geopolitical bullying of Japan over Okinawa’s Futenma military base undermines the Hatoyama administration (JBC, Jun. 1); Ibaraki Detention Center hunger strikers, and the Suraj Case of a person dying during deportation, raise questions about Immigration Bureau procedure and accountability.

AP: Japan population shrinks by record numbers in 2010. NYT: Its workers aging, Japan turns away immigrants.


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Hi Blog.  Double feature today.  First up, the cold hard statistics as Japan’s population drop accelerate.  Second, the New York Times with an excellent article on how and why immigration to Japan is not being allowed to fill the gap.

This will funnel into my Japan Times column coming out tomorrow, where I do my annual recount of the Top Ten events that influenced NJ in Japan not only for 2010, but also for 2000-2010.  These phenomena make my Top Ten for both lists.  See where tomorrow!  Arudou Debito


Japan population shrinks by record in 2010
Associated Press Sat Jan 1, 2011, courtesy of TJL

TOKYO – Japan’s population fell by a record amount last year as the number of deaths climbed to an all-time high in the quickly aging country, the government said Saturday.

Japan faces a looming demographic squeeze. Baby boomers are moving toward retirement, with fewer workers and taxpayers to replace them. The Japanese boast among the highest life expectancies in the world but have extremely low birth rates.

Japan logged 1.19 million deaths in 2010 — the biggest number since 1947 when the health ministry’s annual records began. The number of births was nearly flat at 1.07 million.

As a result, Japan contracted by 123,000 people, which was the most ever and represents the fourth consecutive year of population decline. The top causes of death were cancer, heart disease and stroke, the ministry said.

Japanese aged 65 and older make up about a quarter of Japan’s current population. The government projects that by 2050, that figure will climb to 40 percent.

Like in other advanced countries, young people are waiting to get married and choosing to have fewer children because of careers and lifestyle issues.

Saturday’s report showed 706,000 marriages registered last year — the fewest since 1954 and a sign that birth rates are unlikely to jump dramatically anytime soon.

Japan’s total population stood at 125.77 million as of October, according to the ministry.


The Great Deflation
This series of articles examines the effects on Japanese society of two decades of economic stagnation and declining prices.

Its Workers Aging, Japan Turns Away Immigrants [original title]
[Current title: Despite Shortage, Japan Keeps a High Wall for Foreign Labor]
The New York Times
Published: January 2, 2011, courtesy of The Club

KASHIWA, Japan — Maria Fransiska, a young, hard-working nurse from Indonesia, is just the kind of worker Japan would seem to need to replenish its aging work force.

But Ms. Fransiska, 26, is having to fight to stay. To extend her three-year stint at a hospital outside Tokyo, she must pass a standardized nursing exam administered in Japanese, a test so difficult that only 3 of the 600 nurses brought here from Indonesia and the Philippines since 2007 have passed.

So Ms. Fransiska spends eight hours in Japanese language drills, on top of her day job at the hospital. Her dictionary is dog-eared from countless queries, but she is determined: her starting salary of $2,400 a month was 10 times what she could earn back home, and if she fails, she will never be allowed to return to Japan on the same program again.

“I think I have something to contribute here,” Ms. Fransiska said during a recent visit, spooning mouthfuls of rice and vegetables into the mouth of Heiichi Matsumaru, a 80-year-old patient recovering from a stroke. “If I could, I would stay here long-term, but it is not so easy.”

Despite facing an imminent labor shortage as its population ages, Japan has done little to open itself up to immigration. In fact, as Ms. Fransiska and many others have discovered, the government is doing the opposite, actively encouraging both foreign workers and foreign graduates of its universities and professional schools to return home while protecting tiny interest groups — in the case of Ms. Fransiska, a local nursing association afraid that an influx of foreign nurses would lower industry salaries.

In 2009, the number of registered foreigners here fell for the first time since the government started to track annual records almost a half-century ago, shrinking 1.4 percent from a year earlier to 2.19 million people — or just 1.71 percent of Japan’s overall population of 127.5 million.

Experts say increased immigration provides one obvious remedy to Japan’s two decades of lethargic economic growth. Instead of accepting young workers, however — and along with them, fresh ideas — Tokyo seems to have resigned itself to a demographic crisis that threatens to stunt the country’s economic growth, hamper efforts to deal with its chronic budget deficits and bankrupt its social security system.

“If you’re in the medical field, it’s obvious that Japan needs workers from overseas to survive. But there’s still resistance,” said Yukiyoshi Shintani, chairman of Aoikai Group, the medical services company that is sponsoring Ms. Fransiska and three other nurses to work at a hospital outside Tokyo. “The exam,” he said, “is to make sure the foreigners will fail.”

Tan Soon Keong, a student, speaks five languages — English, Japanese, Mandarin, Cantonese and Hokkien — has an engineering degree, and three years of work experience in his native Malaysia, a track record that would seem to be invaluable to Japanese companies seeking to globalize their business.

Still, he says he is not confident about landing a job in Japan when he completes his two-year technical program at a college in Tokyo’s suburbs next spring. For one, many companies here set an upper age limit for fresh graduate hires; at 26, most consider him too old to apply. Others have told him they are not hiring foreigners.

Mr. Tan is not alone. In 2008, only 11,000 of the 130,000 foreign students at Japan’s universities and technical colleges found jobs here, according to the recruitment firm, Mainichi Communications. While some Japanese companies have publicly said they will hire more foreigners in a bid to globalize their work forces, they remain a minority.

“I’m preparing for the possibility that I may have to return to Malaysia,” Mr. Tan said at a recent job fair for foreign students in Tokyo. “I’d ideally work at a company like Toyota,” he said. “But that’s looking very difficult.”

Japan is losing skilled talent across industries, experts say. Investment banks, for example, are moving more staff to hubs like Hong Kong and Singapore, which have more foreigner-friendly immigration and taxation regimes, lower costs of living and a local population that speaks better English.

Foreigners who submitted new applications for residential status — an important indicator of highly skilled labor because the status requires a specialized profession — slumped 49 percent in 2009 from a year earlier to just 8,905 people.

The barriers to more immigration to Japan are many. Restrictive immigration laws bar the country’s struggling farms or workshops from access to foreign labor, driving some to abuse trainee programs for workers from developing countries, or hire illegal immigrants. Stringent qualification requirements shut out skilled foreign professionals, while a web of complex rules and procedures discourages entrepreneurs from setting up in Japan.

Given the dim job prospects, universities here have been less than successful at raising foreign student enrollment numbers. And in the current harsh economic climate, as local incomes fall and new college graduates struggle to land jobs, there has been scant political will to broach what has been a delicate topic.

But Japan’s demographic time clock is ticking: its population will fall by almost a third to 90 million within 50 years, according to government forecasts. By 2055, more than one in three Japanese will be over 65, as the working-age population falls by over a third to 52 million.

Still, when a heavyweight of the defeated Liberal Democratic Party unveiled a plan in 2008 calling for Japan to accept at least 10 million immigrants, opinion polls showed that a majority of Japanese were opposed. A survey of roughly 2,400 voters earlier this year by the daily Asahi Shimbun showed that 65 percent of respondents opposed a more open immigration policy.

“The shrinking population is the biggest problem. The country is fighting for its survival,” said Hidenori Sakanaka, director of the Japan Immigration Policy Institute, an independent research organization. “Despite everything, America manages to stay vibrant because it attracts people from all over the world,” he said. “On the other hand, Japan is content to all but shut out people from overseas.”

Now, in a vicious cycle, Japan’s economic woes, coupled with a lack of progress in immigration policy and lack of support for immigrants, are sparking an exodus of the precious few immigrants who have settled here.

Akira Saito, 37, a Brazilian of Japanese descent who traveled to Toyota City 20 years ago from São Paolo, is one foreign worker ready to leave. The small auto maintenance outfit that Mr. Saito opened after a string of factory jobs is struggling, and the clothing store that employs his Brazilian wife, Tiemi, will soon close. Their three young children are among the local Brazilian school’s few remaining pupils.

For many of Mr. Saito’s compatriots who lost their jobs in the fallout from the global economic crisis, there has been scant government support. Some in the community have taken money from a controversial government-sponsored program designed to encourage jobless migrant workers to go home.

“I came to Japan for the opportunities,” Mr. Saito said. “Lately, I feel there will be more opportunity back home.”

Though Japan had experienced a significant amount of migration in the decades after World War II, it was not until the dawn of Japan’s “bubble economy” of the 1980s that real pressure built on the government to relax immigration restrictions as a way to supply workers to industries like manufacturing and construction.

What ensued was a revision of the immigration laws in a way that policy makers believed would keep the country’s ethnic homogeneity intact. In 1990, Japan started to issue visas to foreign citizens exclusively of Japanese descent, like the descendants of Japanese who immigrated to Brazil in search of opportunities in the last century. In the 1990s, the number of Japanese Brazilians who came to Japan in search of work, like Mr. Saito, surged.

But the government did little to integrate its migrant populations. Children of foreigners are exempt from compulsory education, for example, while local schools that accept non-Japanese speaking children receive almost no help in caring for their needs. Many immigrant children drop out, supporters say, and most foreign workers here in Homi say they plan to return to Brazil.

“Japan does not build strong links between immigrants and the local community,” said Hiroyuki Nomoto, who runs a school for immigrant children in Toyota.

The country is losing its allure even for wide-eyed fans of its cutting-edge technology, pop culture and the seemingly endless business opportunities its developed consumer society appears to offer.

“Visitors come to Tokyo and see such a high-tech, colorful city. They get this gleam in their eye, they say they want to move here,” said Takara Swoopes Bullock, an American entrepreneur who has lived in Japan since 2005. “But setting up shop here is a completely different thing. Often, it just doesn’t make sense, so people move on.”

Mainichi: Global 30 strategy for bringing in more foreign exchange students to be axed, while fewer J students go overseas than Singapore


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Hi Blog.  Another article making the case the Japan is withdrawing inwardly these days — with fewer Japanese students going abroad than even Singapore, and a prominent program to bring foreign exchange students to Japan being axed.  Arudou Debito


Japan’s new educational isolation
By David McNeill.  Mainichi Japan, December 20, 2010, courtesy of EK

Would Mainichi readers be surprised to learn that Japan is preparing to ax one of the cornerstones of its higher education internationalization strategy?

The government’s cost-cutting panel, which is trying to slash costs in a bid to trim the country’s runaway public debt, voted on Nov. 18 to abolish and “restructure” the Global 30 project.

Launched last year with a budget of 3.2 billion yen, Global 30 envisioned “core” universities “dramatically” boosting the number of international students in Japan and Japanese students studying abroad, said the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

The ministry’s strict selection process, however, meant that just 13 elite universities made the initial grade. Now the project has been terminated.

Can Japan afford this? Fewer than 4 percent of Japan’s university students come from abroad — 133,000, well below China (223,000) and the U.S. (672,000). Just 5 percent of its 353,000 university teachers are foreign, according to Ministry of Education statistics. Most of those are English teachers.

At the opposite end of the education pendulum, students here are increasingly staying at home: Japanese undergraduate enrollments in U.S. universities have plummeted by over half since 2000. Numbers to Europe are also down.

Japan, in the view of many, may be entering another period of educational sakoku — or self-enforced isolation.

South Korea, with about half Japan’s population, sends over twice as many students to the U.S. At some American universities, such as Cornell, Japan is behind not just China and South Korea, but even Thailand and tiny Singapore.

Japan’s share of global research production, meanwhile, fell from 9.45 percent to 6.75 percent over the last decade, according to the latest Global Research Report. While the report noted “areas of excellence” in Japan’s profile, it blamed its faltering performance on a dearth of international collaborations.

Global 30 was supposed to partly remedy those ills, helping Japanese universities reach a government goal of 300,000 foreign students by 2020, while sending the same number of Japanese students abroad.

“We think those universities will set an example for other colleges by leading with good practice,” said Kato Shigeharu, deputy director of Higher Education Bureau at the ministry. “This practice will then diffuse to other colleges around the country.”

That interview came before the government decision.

With the worst public debt in the industrialized world — 900 trillion yen ($10.6 trillion) — Japan has much less fiscal leg-room than its competitors. So budget cutting may be inevitable, but why not intensify the effort to target useless dams or highways rather than education?

The decision has been greeted with dismay. “This government is destroying Japan,” said Yoshida Go, a professor with the Office of International Strategic Planning at Nagoya University — one of the 13 selectees.

“Quite honestly, Japan is late in the game of globalization in higher education. But the government’s left hand doesn’t know what its right hand is doing.”


David McNeill writes for The Independent and Irish Times newspapers and the weekly Chronicle of Higher Education. He has been in Japan since 2000 and previously spent two years here, from 1993-95 working on a doctoral thesis. He was raised in Ireland.

(Mainichi Japan) December 20, 2010


Discussion: As a person with NJ roots, is your future in Japan? An essay making the case for “No”.


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Hi Blog. More woolgathering on the past decade, as the end of the year approaches:

I’m hearing increasing discontent from the NJ Community (assuming quite presumptuously there is one able to speak with a reasonably unified voice) about living in Japan.

Many are saying that they’re on their way outta here.  They’ve had enough of being treated badly by a society that takes their taxes yet does not respect or protect their rights.

To stimulate debate, let me posit with some flourish the negative case for continuing life in Japan, and let others give their own arguments pro and con:


It’s becoming increasingly difficult to expect people to want to immigrate to Japan, given the way they are treated once they get here.

We have racial profiling by the Japanese police, where both law allows and policy sanctions the stopping of people based upon having a “foreign appearance”, such as it is, where probable cause for ID checks anywhere is the mere suspicion of foreigners having expired visas.

We have rampant refusals of NJ by landlords and rental agencies (sanctioned to the point where at least one realtor advertises “Gaijin OK” apartments), with the occasional private enterprise putting up “Japanese Only” signs, and nothing exists to stop these acts that are expressly forbidden by the Japanese Constitution.  Yet now fifteen years after effecting the UN Convention on Racial Discrimination, Japan still has no law against it either on the books or in the pipeline.

With recent events both with the Northern Territories, the Takeshima/Tokdo rocks, and the Senkakus, we have a rising reactionary xenophobic wave justifying itself upon creating a stronger Japan to “protect sovereignty” through anti-foreign sloganeering. This is is very visible in the reaction to the proposed suffrage for Permanent Residents bill, which went down in flames this year and is still inspiring people to ask their local assemblies to pass “ikensho” expressly in opposition (I was sent one yesterday afternoon from a city assembly politician for comment).  Bashing NJ has become sport, especially during election campaigns.

We have people, including elected officials, claiming unapologetically that even naturalized Japanese are “not real Japanese”, with little reprisal and definitely no resignations.

We have had the NPA expressly lying and the media blindly reporting about “foreign crime rises” for years now, even as crime falls.

And we are seeing little future return on our investment: Long-term NJ bribed by the GOJ to return “home” and give up their pensions, and the longest wait to qualify for the pension itself (25 years) in the industrialized world. With the aging society and the climbing age to get it (I have little doubt that by the time I am old enough, currently aged 45, that the age will be around 70 or so), and Japan’s postwar Baby Boomers soon qualifying themselves, looks likely there won’t be much left in the public coffers when it happens.

Yet we still have little acknowledgment by our government of all that NJ and immigrants have done for this society.  Instead, the image of NJ went quite markedly from “misunderstood guest and outsider” to “criminal threat to Japan’s safe society” this decade.

Why stay in a society that officially treats its people of diversity with such suspicion, derision and ingratitude?, is a case that can be made.  Especially other NJ are getting the message and leaving — the NJ population dropped in 2009 for the first time since 1961.  As salaries keep dropping in a deflationary economy, even the financial incentives for staying in an erstwhile more hospitable society are evaporating.

That’s the negative case that can be made.  So let me posit a question to Readers (I’ll create a blog poll to this effect):

Do you see your future as living in Japan?

  1. Definitely yes.
  2. Probably yes for the foreseeable future, but things might change.
  3. Uncertain, is all I can say.
  4. Leaning towards a probable no.
  5. Definitely no.
  6. Something else.
  7. N / A: I don’t live or will not live in Japan.

Let’s see what people think. I’ll leave this up as the top post until Tuesday or so, depending on how hot the discussion gets. Arudou Debito special report on Japan: How it all comes back down to demographics


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Hi Blog. Interesting podcasts from The Economist London (November 20, 2010) on how Japan’s economic future all comes down to demographics:

Eight minutes:

Economist Editor: “Unless Japan takes dramatic steps to reenergize its shrinking, greying workforce, its economy will suffer.”

A special report on Japan

12.5 minutes:

Henry Tricks: “When I set about writing this report, I didn’t start out by looking at population decline. I looked at all the other problems… but everything seemed to come back down to demographics.”

A special report on Japan

My interpretation: There is no getting around immigration. NJ will come. Whether they find a weakened elderly population in the near future, or an empty island in the far future, they will come. They had better be made into Japanese or there will be no more Japanese. Arudou Debito

Japan Times Community Page on issues of dual citizenship: “Japan loses, rest of the world gains from ‘one citizenship fits all’ policy”


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Hi Blog. Thoughtful letter on a serious issue in the Japan Times Community Page again this week (Tuesday’s paper is always worth the cover price). Speaking of identity and possibilities of a “Rainbow Society” (which has become a discussion on issues of being “haafu” in Japan in the Comments Section of a recent blog post), one essential issue is the acknowledgement of “doubles” in terms of legal status: Dual Nationality. Excerpting from this week’s Hotline to Nagatacho. Arudou Debito


The Japan Times Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2010
Japan loses, rest of the world gains from ‘one citizenship fits all’ policy

…What does Japan gain by, in effect, rejecting my children and thousands of other young dual citizens living in Japan and around the world, at the very moment when they come of age and are at last able to become productive members of society?

Best as I can figure, the only virtue of the “one citizenship fits all” rule is simplicity.

What does Japan lose by rejecting dual citizenship?

My daughters, for one thing (and that’s a big loss; I know, I know: oyabaka), along with many other repudiated young people whose capacity and willingness to contribute their talents, creativity, fluency in English and other languages, international experience, energy and human and financial capital to Japan as full-fledged members of society are suppressed, or snuffed out altogether, by continuing a short-sighted, anachronistic policy.

In an era of increasing global competition, a shrinking, aging and insular Japan needs all hands on deck. Japan should be actively recruiting these talented young people to come to Japan and lay down roots, not turning them away.

Some may contend that my daughters and others like them are still free to come to Japan as foreigners, procure visas and remain for as long as they like (or at least as long as they have a visa-qualifying job). But that’s a far cry from “being Japanese.”

It’s not just about avoiding the legal limits on what foreigners may do and how long they may stay in Japan. Citizens are more likely to be motivated to make the sacrifices, and take the risks necessary to improve society, such as through public service and entrepreneurial activity. The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has often said, in a different context, that “no one in the history of the world has ever washed a rented car.” The same holds true here. Japan cannot repossess the title to the car — citizenship — from some of its people and fairly expect that those same people will still care enough to do what it takes to keep the car — Japan — in good working order or, better yet, to add some chrome and polish.

It is a well-known secret that the Japanese government does not actively enforce the citizenship selection rule. I was even told once — by a Japanese government official no less — that my kids should simply hold on to their Japanese passports after they reach 22 and renew them when they expire, without ever making an affirmative citizenship selection. Many people do just this. It’s the dual citizenship equivalent of the U.S. armed forces’ fading “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

This is a very Japanese approach, but it’s not a solution. It places all “shadow” dual citizens at risk of losing their Japanese nationality any time the Japanese government decides to change its current policy of benign neglect, or if a dual citizen trips up by presenting the wrong passport to the wrong immigration official at the wrong time. Long-term planning and commitment are impossible under these circumstances.

But, more importantly, this “winks and nods” policy of lax or non-enforcement sends precisely the wrong message. Instead of laying out the welcome mat, these young people are told to sneak in through the back door (and hope it’s not locked). Many won’t even try.

One wonders if the existing policy of denying permanent dual citizenship to people who possessed the status as children is motivated by a concern that altering it would lead to dual citizenship demands by others, such as ethnic Korean residents of Japan or Brazilians of Japanese descent. Rather than risk facing such demands, government officials might have concluded that it is “better to leave well enough alone.” However, allowing people who already have Japanese citizenship to keep it will not inevitably lead to more far-reaching changes to Japan’s Nationality Law.

Given its dire demographic outlook, perhaps Japan should open a dialogue on radical changes to its Nationality Law, such as a U.S.-style “birthright” giving citizenship to all people born on Japanese soil, an Israeli-style “Law of Return” allowing the ingathering of all ethnic Japanese everywhere in their ancestral homeland, or an Irish-style “Grandparent Rule” granting citizenship to anyone who can document having one Japanese grandparent. But even if Japan is not willing to open its door that widely, it should at least stop slamming the door on some of its own citizens shortly after they reach adulthood…

Full article at

The Independent (UK) on Japan’s rising nationalism as Japan slips in world rankings


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Hi Blog.  Here’s another article from David McNeill on how the power shift in Asia is fueling domestic xenophobic jingoism.  Although we’ve seen far too much coverage of this raving right-wingnut Sakurai in recent months, the point is still valid that people here are feeling (or at least the domestic media is promoting the feeling) that Japan is being squeezed by emerging neighboring economic powers.  How that will affect Japan’s treatment of its NJ residents is something and journalist contributors should keep an eye on.  (A recent Poll, currently fifth from the top, indicates that Readers don’t think it will matter much. Hope so.)  Arudou Debito on his way to JALT Nagoya


The Independent, November 5, 2010
Japan: The land of the rising nationalism
By David McNeill
The emergence of China as an economic superpower is bringing out the jingoism in the Japanese

Most Tokyo districts will fortunately never experience Makoto Sakurai and his noisy flag-waving mob. But the city’s normally quiet Moto-Azabu area is home to the Chinese embassy and there are few countries Sakurai hates more than China. His group’s favourite insult – directed at the embassy via megaphone – is shina-jin roughly equivalent to “chink”.

“The Chinese are making fools of us,” said Sakurai, a baby-faced 30-something and the unlikely ringleader of what one academic calls: “Japan’s fiercest and most dangerous hate group today.” Like many nationalists, he is infuriated by what he sees as Chinese expansionism.

“If Japan had any guts, it would stand up to them,” he said.

Two decades ago, Japan was the rising Asian upstart that was barging its way on to the world’s front pages. “We are virtually at the mercy of the Japanese,” The LA Times famously blared in 1989, after a slew of high-profile takeovers by Japanese companies. Now it’s faltering Japan’s turn to tremble at the power of foreign capital; Chinese capital.

Japan’s conservative media have been sounding alarm bells all year as the rumblings from China’s economic juggernaut grow louder. In a 24-page feature in March, the right-wing Sapio magazine warned that China is set to “buy up Japan”, noting how Chinese conglomerates are gobbling up real estate and forests and even eyeing uninhabited islands around Japan’s coast. Another magazine ran a front-page story titled “Your next boss could be Chinese”.

Japan’s insecurity at its reduced status has been hammered home this week in a dispute with another neighbour. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s decision to visit one of four islands off northern Japan, seized by Moscow after the Second World War, was called “regrettable” by Prime Minister Naoto Kan. Sakurai’s followers were more blunt – and bitter. “Russia and China are both taking advantage of Japan’s weakness,” said one. “China has a dagger pointed at Japan’s heart – what are we going to do about it?”

The disputes could not have come at a worse time. The summer news that China overtook Japan as the world’s No 2 economy – a position Japan had held for four decades – has sparked painful soul-searching in a country that was once seen as a serious economic rival to America. Indications of Japan’s decline are all around. Per capita GDP fell from fourth in the world in 2001 to 22nd last year. Its share of global production has fallen below 10 per cent for the first time since 1982; its economy grew by a pallid 0.8 per cent in the decade till 2009. After years of government pump priming, public debt approaches 200 per cent of GDP – the worst in the developed world.

Blue-chip firms like Sony and Hitachi have lost their lustre. Last year’s decision by Toyota, once the gold standard of manufacturing, to eventually recall 14 million cars seemed symbolic of a faltering global brand – Japan Inc. Yasuchika Hasegawa, president of Takeda Chemicals, summed up Japan’s sense of crisis this year when he said: “We need a new vision or we face the decline of our nation.”

Japan is still struggling to deal with the fallout from a separate territorial dispute with Beijing over the Senkaku (as they are known in Japan) or Daiyou (as they are known in China) islands. China pressured Tokyo into releasing the captain of a fishing boat that had collided with a coastguard vessel in waters claimed by Japan, in part by choking off supplies of rare earth minerals – vital for the electronics industry. The timing of the maritime spat confirmed some fears that China’s expanding economic clout is increasingly matched by political and military muscle.

“Lots of nations disagree, but it doesn’t get down to an eyeball-to-eyeball game of chicken,” says Jeff Kingston, a China expert in Temple University Japan. “It’s about the huge shift of power from Japan toward China over the last 15 years.

“It’s about who gets to call the shots in Asia – the US or China and China is saying it wants a bigger say and the key issue is for the US to decide if it wants to cede more space to them – and history is not littered with good examples of that.”

All of which could be used to paint a very bleak picture of one of the planet’s most important bilateral relationships, were it not for cold economic facts. China gobbled up a record 19 per cent of Japan’s total exports last year, while Japan in turn bought 22 per cent of its imports from China. Two decades of often bit

ter disputes over history, territory and politics have failed to knock the onward march of economic progress off course: China last year overtook the US to become Japan’s most important trading partner.

In Tokyo’s upscale Matsuzakaya department store, a couple of miles from where Sakurai and his supporters shout racist-tinged invective at the Chinese embassy, a very different picture of Sino-Japan relations is on show. Like thousands of Japanese businesses struggling with inert domestic demand, this crusty shopping landmark is turning its gaze to an alluring new customer and as such has had to hire Mandarin-speaking staff to deal with the influx of Chinese customers. “They turn their noses up at Chinese-made goods,” explains Le Hui, one of the new assistants. “They want Japanese and European brands.”

Long seen by Japanese companies as a source of cheap labour, China is increasingly now a market for tourism and finished Japanese products. For China, meanwhile, Japan is not only an important market but a source of advanced technologies and investment. “For China to continue along its path of development, it needs a peaceful environment and a good relationship with Japan,” says Zhu Jianrong, a professor of international relations at Tokyo’s Toyo Gakuen University, who is optimistic the current tension can be overcome.

Still, the political impact of Japan’s growing despondency is unpredictable as it adapts, sometimes uncomfortably, to the growing Chinese bulk. One ominous route for frustrations was on display after the freeing of the Chinese captain, which was greeted with fury by Sakurai and some 3,000 other nationalists, who protested at the Chinese embassy.

The Yukan Fuji tabloid newspaper branded the release dogeza gaiko – appeasement diplomacy; Tokyo’s right-wing governor Shintaro Ishihara said the Chinese were acting like “gangsters” and that it was time for Japan to seriously consider developing nuclear weapons. One hero of the neo-nationalist movement, Toshio Tamogami – a sacked former air force general – even floated the possibility of war. The end result was to “increase Japanese insecurity on the one hand and greater dependency on the US on the other,” points out Mark Selden, a veteran Japan-watcher based at Cornell University in the US. That twin-punch deals a serious blow to what was once seen as a potentially promising initiative of the centre-left Democrat (DPJ) government.

The previous prime minister Yukio Hatoyama flirted with what he dubbed Yuai – a fraternal relationship with old enemy China that could have brought both sides closer: more political and cultural exchanges, an EU-style Asian market, even a military alliance were discussed.

With Hatoyama gone and both sides again in the political trenches, that initiative seems for now to be dead in the water. Prime Minister Kan, under fire for his handling of both the Chinese and Russian disputes, is suffering the consequences with approval ratings now below 40 per cent. Old rivals like former prime Minister Shinzo Abe are making political hay, advocating a much tougher diplomatic line in street protests and editorials.

Even mainstream publications like the Nikkei business daily are fuelling anti-Chinese sentiment, airing speculation – unproven – that Chinese cash is buying up Japanese land as a hedge against future food shortages at home. Conservative publications have honed in on the scenic area around Lake Kawaguchi, close to national icon Mt Fuji, where Chinese investors this year snapped up 17 luxury houses. Sakurai’s group, the Citizens League to Deny Resident Foreigners Special Rights, is far to the right of the mainstream press advocating, among other things, the expulsion of long-term Chinese residents and a beefed-up military.

But he believes the political tide is turning his way. “Japan has been asleep for a long time,” he says. “It’s time we woke up.”

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:—pt-2-japans-population-crash/


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

UK Guardian compares South Korea’s relatively open-minded future with Japan’s possible “Second Edo Period” of insulation


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Hi Blog.  Here is a thoughtful essay alleging that Japan will lose out to South Korea due to the latter’s relative openness.  If true, that bodes ill for those of us making a life on this side.  I’ll put this article up for discussion for people who know enough about both countries to make a comparison.  Arudou Debito


Japan’s dangerous deglobalised dream
South Korea’s economy has gone from strength to strength, while Japan’s stagnation may turn into a ‘New Edo’ era
Guy Sorman,, Tuesday 9 November 2010, courtesy of TK

In mid-November, all eyes will shift to Seoul when G20 leaders convene for the first time in the South Korean capital. The choice is long overdue, as South Korea is a remarkable success story: in one generation – the South Koreans, formerly pummelled by civil war, under constant threat from their northern communist brethren, long mired in poverty, and ruled by military dictators for 40 years – have built the world’s 13th largest economy and Asia’s most vibrant democracy.

Historically squeezed between its two giant neighbours, China and Japan, South Korea had long been perceived as an underdog with a fuzzy cultural identity. In Asia, however, Japan’s leaders are not waiting for the Seoul summit to take a closer look at South Korea. South Korea was formerly a Japanese colony (1910-1945) and the natives were treated like an inferior race. Today, South Korean’s economy has been growing annually by 5% on average for 10 years, whereas Japan grew by 0.42% per year during the same period.

One could argue that South Korea is not yet a mature economy and is only catching up with a more advanced Japan. This was the case in the 1970s, but no more. Whereas China’s growth is fuelled by low-cost labour as millions of peasants enter the industrial economy, this is not the South Korean recipe for success, which has been driven by private entrepreneurship, innovation and quality products: Samsung and Hyundai, not cheap wages, are South Korea’s growth engines.

Another key to South Korea’s success story is the well-balanced relationship between stable governments and the private sector. This was clearly demonstrated late last year when a South Korean consortium won a contract to build four nuclear reactors in the United Arab Emirates late last year, beating out the French.

The Japanese knew how to co-ordinate state and private-sector goals in the 1970s, but then lost their way. “We should now emulate the South Koreans,” says Eisuke Sakakibara, a leading Japanese economist, who was one of the architects of the Japanese “miracle” of the 1980s. Japanese in search of a miracle now travel to Seoul.

“In Japan, 1990 to 2000 was called the ‘lost decade,'” says the free-market economist Fumio Hayashi. Now Japan is completing its second lost decade. Hayashi and Sakakibara – indeed, most Japanese economists – more or less agree on the fundamental reason for such spectacular stagnation: the Japanese have stopped working hard. Fewer hours worked, longer vacations, and a declining population (since 2005) have, predictably, undermined Japanese growth. To turn this situation around, says Sakakibara, “the Japanese should work more, have more children, and allow immigration.” But the incentives to make any of this happen are just not there.

The Japanese still live comfortably, better by one-third than the South Koreans, thanks to their past investments. Japanese companies abroad remain profitable and Japan is still the global leader in high-tech niches like electronics or carbon fibres. For example, Apple’s iPhone and Boeing’s latest aeroplane rely heavily on Japanese-patented innovations. These comparative advantages may keep Japan above water for a while, but only until China or South Korea catch up.

One would thus expect Japan to be anxiety-ridden, but it is not. True, new forms of poverty and unemployment are rising, but they remain well hidden behind family solidarity or corporate customs. Companies reduce their superfluous employees’ annual bonuses, but do not get rid of them. Young Japanese tend not to work before their 30s, and married women stay at home.

Political parties that rely on an ageing constituency are not tempted to call for change. The sort of shaky short-term political coalitions that rule Japan nowadays prefer to buy time through so-called public stimulus, or to preserve inefficient companies with subsidies. Twenty years of such shortsighted policies, whatever the party in power, have fuelled government debt, hindering private investment.

More strikingly, stagnation has found its promoters in Japan itself. A leading public intellectual Naoki Inose, who is also Tokyo’s vice governor, has declared that “the era of growth is over.” When Japan was threatened by western imperialism, he says, the country had to open up (in 1868) and modernise. This process has been completed. Japan is now ready to reconnect with its own tradition of social harmony and zero growth.

Referring to the 1600-1868 period, Inose calls this future the New Edo era: “A smaller population will enjoy the sufficient wealth that has been accumulated, and, from now on, it will invest its creativity in refining the culture.” The first Edo collapsed when the United States navy opened up the Japanese market with the arrival of Commodore Perry’s “black ships” in 1853. Will the second Edo be able to resist Chinese ambitions? “The New Edo era needs a strong Japanese army,” admits Inose.

This second Edo era may sound like a poetic utopia, but it has some influence: Sakakibara observes that Japanese students do not study abroad anymore and that “nobody learns English”. At a time when South Koreans are becoming more globalised, learning English, and welcoming a growing number of immigrants, Japan is entering a “deglobalisation process”.

That is a worrying trend, and not only for Japan: South Korea can hardly stand alone as the lone Asian democracy. If the Japanese do not wake up from their Edo dream, Asia might very well become a Chinese empire.

Will this be debated at the G20? Not openly, but certainly in the corridors.

Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column Nov 2, 2010: ‘Homogeneous,’ ‘unique’ myths stunt discourse in Japan Studies


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‘Homogeneous,’ ‘unique’ myths stunt discourse
The Japan Times: Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2010


Last month I attended an international lecture by one of Japanology’s senior scholars. I’ll call him Dr. Frink. Decorated by the Japanese government for his contributions to the field, he talked about Japan as a “unique” state that never really changes, even as it slips to third place behind China’s economy.

One reason he gave for this was that “Japan is still the most homogeneous society in the world.” He defined homogeneity by citing Japan’s tiny percentage of resident foreigners.

That was easily disputed after a quick Google search (the lecture hall had Internet; welcome to the 21st century). I raised my hand afterwards and pointed out that some 60 countries were technically “more homogeneous” than Japan, as they have smaller percentages of foreigners, foreign-born residents and immigrants.

According to the United Nations, as of 2005, Japan’s percentage (listed at 1.6 percent, which means that the zainichi, or Japan-born foreigners, are also included) was still larger than Kenya’s (1 percent), Nigeria’s (0.7 percent), India’s (0.5 percent) and China’s (excluding Hong Kong and Macau, 0.3 percent). Of course, given the boom in international migration this decade, many countries are net exporters of immigrants. But herein lies the flaw in linking monoculturality to an absence of foreigners: Don’t all these allegedly “homogeneous” countries (including Japan) also acknowledge ethnic minorities within their borders?

However, this column will focus on a much deeper problem in Dr. Frink’s school of scholarly discourse: The fixation on Japan’s “uniqueness,” and how a cult of Japanese homogeneity interferes with good social science.

Search academic databases for publications in Japan Studies. Quite a few of them (some with Japanese authors espousing their own uniqueness) toe the line of “Japan behaves this way because it is homogeneous, etc.” Scholar Harumi Befu has written books on how this has crystallized into a pseudoscience called Nihonjinron, affecting debate worldwide.

There is a political dimension to all this: the politics of maintaining the status quo.

The Japanese government funds chairs and departments (especially in Japan) to influence the direction of Japan Studies, and is nowadays attracting students to focus on “soft power,” “cool Japan” cultural exotica.

The point is, ruling elites in Japan are perfectly happy with Japan being portrayed as preternaturally intransigent — due to historical, cultural, geographical or whatever reasons — because they like Japan as it is.

However, for the rest of the people living in Japan, this status quo is sending us down a road of obsolescence.

It is clear that Japan is in a deflationary spiral with a crushing national debt and an aging workforce. Paradigm shifts are necessary, and ideas should also be welcome from knowledgeable people overseas. But some advice, bound or blinded by the cult of uniqueness, becomes muted, veers off-target or is never even offered in the first place.

This doesn’t happen everywhere. Boffins have little reservation in telling, for example, Russia what to do about its economy. Why not Japan? Because of ingrained fears about being insensitive or culturally imperialistic towards this modern-day Galapagos.

It hardly bears saying, but societies of living beings are not preserved in amber. There are constant economic, political and demographic pressures requiring changes in thought and direction. In Japan’s case, the aging society will probably lead to increased immigration and a niche-market economy, where certain things are done well, but no longer on the scale of a world power. People both inside and outside Japan will have to come to terms with that.

Yet some data sets relevant to this transition are not open to scholarship. I mentioned here last year (JBC, Nov. 3, 2009) how Japan’s demographic scientists are not including a fundamental numerator in their equations (i.e., inflows) by refusing to even discuss immigration. I also argued last month (JBC, Oct. 5) that Japan’s census, which only surveys for nationality, not ethnicity, is ignoring the possibility that there might be multiethnic Japanese here already. This is despite all the racial intermarriage, multiethnic Japanese children, naturalized citizens, and the fact there are more permanent-resident foreigners here than ever before.

Scholars should be demanding more official data on this. Instead, we are getting the Dr. Frinks of the world spouting spurious claims based on the false premise that the absence of information indicates homogeneity.

Let’s have more sophistication in the discourse. Japanology now offers the world an excellent opportunity to study how a modern, developed and educated society learns to cope with a fluctuating place in the world. Nihonjinron should be seen and dismissed for what it is: a static ideology, existing for a nostalgic public looking for a comfortable self-identity, a ruling elite unwilling to face a fundamentally different future, or an overseas audience craving exotica over science.

This means we should have a moratorium on superlatives, such as linking the “U-word” with Japan. All societies have their singular aspects, to be sure, but we should never lose sight of the fact that we’re all one big human family with more communalities than differences. To belabor the obvious, no society is “uniquely unique.”

Fixating on Japan’s illusory “uniqueness and homogeneity” takes energies away from studying the very real problems that Japan, like any other country, will be facing this century. Let’s demand better scholarship and help Japan cope with — if not get out of — this mess.

Debito Arudou coauthored the “Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants and Immigrants.” Twitter arudoudebito. Just Be Cause appears on the first Community Page of the month. Send comments on this issue to

NYT on Japan’s deflation: “Japan, Once Dynamic, Is Disheartened by Decline”


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Hi Blog. In yesterday’s blog entry, Doug gave us a comment referencing a NYT article on the effects of a long recession, deflation, and overall economic slippage in world rankings on Japanese society. The bit that resonated with me came at the very end:

Japan, Once Dynamic, Is Disheartened by Decline
Published in the New York Times October 16, 2010

…Deflation has also affected businesspeople by forcing them to invent new ways to survive in an economy where prices and profits only go down, not up.

Yoshinori Kaiami was a real estate agent in Osaka, where, like the rest of Japan, land prices have been falling for most of the past 19 years. Mr. Kaiami said business was tough. There were few buyers in a market that was virtually guaranteed to produce losses, and few sellers, because most homeowners were saddled with loans that were worth more than their homes.

Some years ago, he came up with an idea to break the gridlock. He created a company that guides homeowners through an elaborate legal subterfuge in which they erase the original loan by declaring personal bankruptcy, but continue to live in their home by “selling” it to a relative, who takes out a smaller loan to pay its greatly reduced price.

“If we only had inflation again, this sort of business would not be necessary,” said Mr. Kaiami, referring to the rising prices that are the opposite of deflation. “I feel like I’ve been waiting for 20 years for inflation to come back.”

One of his customers was Masato, the small-business owner, who sold his four-bedroom condo to a relative for about $185,000, 15 years after buying it for a bit more than $500,000. He said he was still deliberating about whether to expunge the $110,000 he still owed his bank by declaring personal bankruptcy.

Economists said one reason deflation became self-perpetuating was that it pushed companies and people like Masato to survive by cutting costs and selling what they already owned, instead of buying new goods or investing.

“Deflation destroys the risk-taking that capitalist economies need in order to grow,” said Shumpei Takemori, an economist at Keio University in Tokyo. “Creative destruction is replaced with what is just destructive destruction.”

Whole article at:

COMMENT:  The homey explanation of complex economics aside (which few can comment on with certainty due to the unusualness of a deflationary economy), the reason why this passage resonated with me:

As a friend of mine’s brother (who works for a major US insurance company) said to me the other night, I am “upside down” in terms of my house loan.

I recently had my house (a 49.5-tsubo structure on 169 tsubo of land), purchased in 1997, appraised. Under current market prices, I was told that I could get 65,000 yen in monthly rent should I ever try to rent it out.

However, I am paying around 115,000 yen PER MONTH in terms of mortgage, plus three months of rent out of my Bonus twice a year. Not to mention property taxes per annum of about 102,000 yen (down slightly from two years ago), and some insurance of about 60,000 yen per year. All told under current exchange rates, I have to make more than USD 25,000 per year just to feed the home front.

And if heaven forfend I were to sell the house, the market for second-hand homes is such that the house itself is basically worthless. Essentially only the land is worth something. The plot was purchased for 12,000,000 yen back in ’97. The next-door plot, of equal size and back then of equal price, is now being signposted as going for 4,500,000 yen. Event then, the plot is still unsold. So I don’t fancy my chances for recouping much of anything should I try to unload my property.  Then I would still be saddled with a vestigial loan balance with nothing to gain from it.

Of course, it was understood back then when I bought the house that it was not an investment in terms of money, but rather a chance for me to carve out a world of my own design within Japan — with a house designed to my family’s specifications with enough space to grow and be comfortable.  A place of our own.  With a lawn to cut.

It was meant to be a “Happily Ever After” scenario.  But then again few of those fairy-tale scenarios withstand the Test of Time.  I didn’t count on my asking for a divorce, on no longer living under that roof,  or on my salary going down by about a quarter as the loan premiums went up.  As frequent readers of know, my ex and kids are still living there (I didn’t want to boot my kids out of the house they were growing up in) and I’m covering everything except utilities.  Hence my “Upside Down Mortgage” is going from financial Albatross to increasingly unsustainable.  Something’s gotta give, sooner or later.  I just hope it won’t be personal bankruptcy.

As one of’s goals is to cover the life of one person living in Japan as a form of case study (so people can avoid and learn from my mistakes), I’ll keep you advised someday on what happens next.

When I came to Japan I said I wanted to live like other Japanese.  According to the NYT article above, it seems I’m doing just that.  Arudou Debito

Economist: Japan as number three, watching China’s economy whizz by


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Hi Blog. Here’s the better of the latest Western-press articles, from The Economist London, showing China overtaking Japan to become the world’s number two economy.

Now, the reason why this is a issue:  The economic malaise that has affected this society for two decades and counting has had two cantilevering effects: 1) The need to bring in cheap labor from overseas to lower labor costs and increase export productivity; and 2) the jealousy and xenophobia that will rise towards those NJ brought here as a natural consequence — of seeing an economic rival usurp the position of Asia’s leader — and how a society seeing itself in decline may in fact become even more insular and closed-minded.

That’s where I’d like to see the discussion head here regarding this topic. Never mind disputing the economics in specific (that can be done elsewhere). Just assume that China will overtake Japan. What do people think that will do to Japan as a society vis-a-vis its treatment of NJ?

NB: I will be on the road for the next week or so, checking my blog only sporadically. So please be patient about having blog comments approved. I will put up a blog poll so people can voice their opinions in macro. Arudou Debito on holiday


Japan as number three
Watching China whizz by
Japan is now the world’s third-largest economy. Can its firms cope?
The Economist London, Aug 19th 2010 | TOKYO

Article plus two interesting charts at

FIVE years ago China’s economy was half as big as Japan’s. This year it will probably be bigger (see chart 1). Quarterly figures announced this week showed that China had overtaken its ancient rival. It had previously done so only in the quarter before Christmas, when Chinese GDP is always seasonally high.

Since China’s population is ten times greater than Japan’s, this moment always seemed destined to arrive. But it is surprising how quickly it came. For Japan, which only two decades ago aspired to be number one, the slip to third place is a gloomy milestone. Yet worse may follow.

Many of the features of Japanese capitalism that contributed to its long malaise still persist: the country is lucky if its economy grows by 1% a year. Although Japan has made substantial reforms in corporate governance, financial openness and deregulation, they are far from enough. Unless dramatic changes take place, Japan may suffer a third lost decade.

Of course, Japan still boasts some of the world’s most innovative firms. Carmakers such as Toyota and electronics firms such as Toshiba are in a class of their own. Japanese firms hold more than a 70% market share in 30 industries worth more than $1 billion in annual sales, from digital cameras to car-navigation devices, according to 2008 data. Whatever the brand on a digital gadget’s case, Japanese wares are stuffed inside or are essential for producing it.

Yet the success of Japan’s best firms masks wider weaknesses. Yoko Ishikura, a business professor at Hitotsubashi University, believes that Japanese bosses are complacent. “They are either too afraid to face the reality of the power shift,” she says, “or [they] want to stick to old, familiar models.” Yet the core problem is that Japan suffers from a gross misallocation of resources, both financial and human.

Japan has long kept the cost of capital low, to boost investment or help stragglers. Since the financial crisis began, bureaucratic organs such as the Innovation Network Corporation of Japan and the Enterprise Turnaround Initiative Corporation have been handed $25 billion to revitalise ailing companies. Among the latter agency’s first acts was to assist a dying wireless operator that bet on archaic technology.

Food for zombies

The system almost guarantees that fresh capital goes to the losers of yesteryear. Because struggling companies rarely die, new ones do not form. Japan’s bankruptcy rate is half of America’s; the rate at which it creates new firms is only a third as high. Japanese venture capitalists are few and far between. Japan’s bureaucratic allocation of credit seldom spurs animal spirits. Rather, it nourishes zombies.

Japan has also lost its knack for getting the best out of its human capital. Its people are superbly literate and numerate, but certain cultural traits are holding businesses back. Respect for seniority means that promotions go to the older, not the most able. Young executives with good ideas refrain from speaking up. Retiring presidents are kept on as chairmen or advisers, making it awkward for the new guy to undo his predecessor’s mistakes. A rising executive at a big trading house says he was counselled by his seniors to keep his views hidden if he wanted to get on.

Japanese salarymen, who were once regarded as modern-day samurai, are today known as soshoku-danshi (wussy, unambitious “grass-eating men”). Since 2003, the proportion of young Japanese entering the labour force who want to be entrepreneurs has halved, to 14%, while those who seek lifetime employment has nearly doubled, to 57% (see chart 2). Bosses grouse that the young eschew overseas posts; even a foreign-ministry official confides that Japanese diplomats prefer to stay at home.

The herbivores are markedly less “globalised” than their elders. Since 2000 the number of Chinese and Indians studying in America has doubled, whereas the number of Japanese has dropped by a third, to a fraction of the other Asian countries’ total. And despite years of mandatory English-language classes in secondary school, the Japanese score lowest among rich countries on English tests. This needn’t be a problem, except that as an export-dependent economy, Japan’s lifeblood is its relations with other countries, frets Takatoshi Ito, an economist at the University of Tokyo.

Half the nation’s talent is squandered. Only 8% of managers are female, compared with around 40% in America and about 20% in China. There are more women on corporate boards in Kuwait than Tokyo. Women are paid 60-70% as much as their male counterparts. A manager at one of Japan’s biggest conglomerates says that 70% of qualified job applicants are women, but fewer than 10% of new hires are, since the work may entail visits to factories or mines, where they might perspire in an unladylike way. Kirin, a brewer, seeks to double the number of its female managers by 2015—to a mere 6% of the total.

To get the economy moving, Japan Inc took a page from its industrial-policy playbook of yore. In June the trade ministry released a sweeping new “growth strategy” that identifies a score of vibrant sectors meriting government assistance, from overseas construction to attracting medical tourists. The project calls for hundreds of reforms, big and small. But the bureaucrats most intimately involved were shunted to other jobs in July, so who knows whether any will be implemented. Once again, the practices of old Japan scuttle the new. Richard Katz, editor of the Oriental Economist (no relation to us), believes Japan has trouble tackling its problems because they are all inter-related. “It is hard to fix one without fixing the others,” he says.

The local news media have played down Japan’s slip to third place. Alarmists fear that South Korea—which has a much smaller population—may overtake Japan, too. Is Japan willing to fight to keep its bronze medal for as long as possible?

Supporters say that the country always seems to shuffle its feet but then snaps into action when faced with a crisis. It did so in the 19th century, adopting modern ways to avoid being colonised, and again after the second world war. Japan was the world’s second-largest economy for 40 years. But the traits that made it an economic powerhouse in the 20th century—easy capital, big companies, rote learning, management by mandarins and stable jobs for male breadwinners—are ill-suited to the 21st. Today, Japan’s biggest obstacle is itself. Without dramatic reform, it will slip swiftly to number four, number five and beyond.


Summer Tangent: on Japan’s generation-long economic stagnation leading to a lost generation of youth


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Hi Blog.  Yet another Summer Tangent linked with yesterday’s post on Amakudari foiling reforms.  Here we have a reporter connecting the dots of Japan’s economic decline with more than just a whiff of Schadenfreude:  Holding up Japan as a laboratory experiment example of a society going down the tubes.  Well, points taken, especially about the sense of “Why bother?” for workers in a deflationary economy, but I’m not sure there are lessons that really apply anywhere else but here (and as a nitpick:  I don’t see “grass-eating men” as people who lack workplace competitiveness:  to me it’s more a fashion statement for men who have been brought up in a society where the ideal of beauty has long been far more feminine than masculine).  But anyway, food for thought.  Comments?  Debito


Japan’s Economic Stagnation Is Creating a Nation of Lost Youths By CHARLES HUGH SMITH
Posted 7:00 AM 08/06/10, Courtesy of CJ

What happens to a generation of young people when:

  • They are told to work hard and go to college, yet after graduating they find few permanent job opportunities?
  • Many of the jobs that are available are part-time, temporary or contract labor?
  • These insecure jobs pay one-third of what their fathers earned?
  • The low pay makes living at home the only viable option?
  • Poor economic conditions persist for 10, 15 and 20 years in a row?

For an answer, turn to Japan. The world’s second-largest economy has stagnated in just this fashion for almost 20 years, and the consequences for the “lost generations” that have come of age in the “lost decades” have been dire. In many ways, Japan’s social conventions are fraying under the relentless pressure of an economy in seemingly permanent decline.

While the world sees Japan as the home of consumer technology juggernauts such as Sony and Toshiba and high-tech “bullet trains” (shinkansen), beneath the bright lights of Tokyo and the evident wealth generated by decades of hard work and Japan Inc.’s massive global export machine lies a different reality: increasing poverty and decreasing opportunity for the nation’s youth.

Suddenly, It’s Haves and Have Nots

The gap between extremes of income at the top and bottom of society — measured by the Gini coefficient — has been growing in Japan for years. To the surprise of many outsiders, once-egalitarian Japan is becoming a nation of haves and have-nots.

The media in Japan have popularized the phrase “kakusa shakai,” literally meaning “gap society.” As the elite slice prospers and younger workers are increasingly marginalized, the media has focused on the shrinking middle class. For example, a best-selling book offers tips on how to get by on an annual income of less than 3 million yen ($34,800). Two million yen ($23,000) has become the de-facto poverty line for millions of Japanese, especially outside high-cost Tokyo.

More than one-third of the workforce is part-time as companies have shed the famed Japanese lifetime employment system, nudged along by government legislation that abolished restrictions on flexible hiring a few years ago. Temp agencies have expanded to fill the need for contract jobs as permanent job opportunities have dwindled.

Many fear that as the generation of salaried baby boomers dies out, the country’s economic slide might accelerate. Japan’s share of the global economy has fallen below 10% from a peak of 18% in 1994. Were this decline to continue, income disparities would widen and threaten to pull this once-stable society apart.

Downsized Expectations, Opting Out

The Japanese term ”freeter” is a hybrid word that originated in the late 1980s, just as Japan’s property and stock market bubbles reached their zenith. It combines the English ”free” and the German ”arbeiter,” or worker, and describes a lifestyle that’s radically different from the buttoned-down rigidity of the permanent-employment economy: freedom to move between jobs. This absence of loyalty to a company is totally alien to previous generations of driven Japanese “salarymen” who were expected to uncomplainingly turn in 70-hour work weeks at the same company for decades, all in exchange for lifetime employment.

Many young people have come to mistrust big corporations, having seen their fathers or uncles eased out of ”lifetime” jobs in the relentless downsizing of the past 20 years. From the point of view of the younger generations, the loyalty their parents unstintingly gave to companies was wasted.

The freeters have also come to see diminishing value in the grueling study and tortuous examinations required to compete for the elite jobs in academia, industry and government. With opportunities fading, long years of study are perceived as pointless. In contrast, the freeter lifestyle is one of hopping between short-term jobs and devoting energy and time to foreign travel, hobbies or other interests.

As long ago as 2001, Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare estimated that 50% of high school graduates and 30% of college graduates quit their jobs within three years of leaving school. The downside is permanently shrunken income and prospects. These trends have led to an ironic moniker for the freeter lifestyle: dame-ren (no good people). The dame-ren get by on odd jobs, low-cost living and drastically diminished expectations.

Changed Men

The decline of permanent employment has also led to the unraveling of social mores and conventions. The young men who reject their fathers’ macho work ethic are derisively called “herbivores” or “grass-eaters” because they’re uncompetitive and uncommitted to work.

Take the bestselling book The Herbivorous Ladylike Men Who Are Changing Japan, by Megumi Ushikubo, president of Infinity, a Tokyo marketing firm. Ushikubo claims that about two-thirds of all Japanese men aged 20-34 are now partial or total “grass-eaters.” “People who grew up in the bubble era [of the 1980s] really feel like they were let down. They worked so hard and it all came to nothing,” says Ushikubo. “So the men who came after them have changed.”

This has spawned a disconnect between genders so pervasive that Japan is experiencing a “social recession” in marriage, births and even sex, all of which are declining.

With a wealth and income divide widening along generational lines, many young Japanese are attaching themselves to their parents. Surveys indicate that roughly two-thirds of freeters live at home. Freeters ”who have no children, no dreams, hope or job skills could become a major burden on society, as they contribute to the decline in the birthrate and in social insurance contributions,” Masahiro Yamada, a sociology professor wrote in a magazine essay titled, ”Parasite Singles Feed on Family System.”

Take My Son, Please

“Parasite singles” is yet another harsh term for some Japanese youths. It refers to those who never leave home, sparking an almost tragicomical countertrend of Japanese parents who actively seek mates to marry off their “parasite single” offspring as the only way to get them out of the house.

Even more extreme is hikikomori, or “acute social withdrawal,” a condition in which the young live-at-home person nearly walls himself off from the world by never leaving his room. Though acute social withdrawal in Japan affect both genders, impossibly high expectations for males from middle- and upper-middle-class families has led many sons, typically the eldest, to refuse to leave home. The trigger for this complete withdrawal from social interaction is often one or more traumatic episodes of social or academic failure. That is, the inability to meet standards of conduct and success that can no longer be met in diminished-opportunity Japan.

The unraveling of Japan’s social fabric as a result of eroding economic conditions for young people offers Americans a troubling glimpse of the high costs of long-term economic stagnation.

Powerpoint presentation: “Japan Past the Point of No Return”


Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japansourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumb
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Hi Blog.  Here’s an eye-opening presentation, done by a person who knows a helluva lot more about financial particulars than I do.  Food for thought.  Courtesy of MMT.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Japan – Past the Point of No Return – By Vitaliy Katsenelson

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


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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。



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 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.


Newsweek and NBER on how immigration helps societies, vs separate Newsweek column doubting it


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Hi Blog.  We had two articles come out in Newsweek over the past two months on the effects of immigration.  One from last March cites an academic 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.  The other guest column that came out late April cites other academics suggesting the opposite.

My take:  I feel that we’ve got some posturing going on.  I’m reminded of the movie THE RIGHT STUFF, where we have the character of Werner Von Braun saying that the Americans are going to win the space race against the Soviets because “our German [scientists] are better than their German [scientists]”.  Same here, where the April article brandishes its scientists vigorously, throwing in undeveloped citations like rocks (some aimed at “activists” and “multicuturalists” shrouding the debate in phony “half-truths”), and name-dropping academics with insufficient development of the science involved.

Myself, I’ll trust a half-century of data collated in the March Newsweek article, and believe that countries are enriched by immigration.  Would anyone argue that places like the United States have NOT benefited through labor migration to its shores?  The only issue is of quantifying how much, which the April column in my view hardly accomplishes.

And if proper attraction and assimilation of immigrants is key (which the April article hints at but won’t come out and say plainly), then the argument once again supports those half-truthy “multiculturalists” and their purportedly phony solutions.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Why Immigration Boosts Wages—and Not Just In California
By Tony Dokoupil | NEWSWEEK
Published Mar 12, 2010
From the magazine issue dated Mar 22, 2010, Courtesy of BC

As the white house revives immigration reform—an issue the president is discussing with congressional leaders—it may want to ponder the effects of curbing foreign labor. While immigrants are blamed for dragging down American wages and stealing jobs, University of California, Davis, economist Giovanni Peri comes to a different conclusion. In a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, Peri trowels through nearly five decades of immigration data and finds that foreign workers have boosted the economy, jacking up average income without crowding out American laborers. For each percentage of the workforce that is foreign-born, he found an almost 0.5 percent bump in average wages. In California, where the percentage of immigrants in the workforce has jumped more than 25 points since 1960, that means an almost 13 percent bonus—roughly $8,000. Immigrants, Peri says, push native-born workers into better-paying positions, expanding the size of the job pie so unskilled Americans aren’t left out.

What’s obvious to an economist, however, is hard to translate into politics. The most popular stances on immigration involve citizenship for illegals already here and border security to shut out everyone else. Less likely to land votes: a guest-worker program that brings in labor to meet demand and keep wages afloat. But without such a program, says Peri, “the U.S. is essentially giving up on gains.”


Link to the actual paper here (fee required)

The official summary of the paper (courtesy

The Effect of Immigration on Productivity: Evidence from US States
A one percent increase in employment in a US state, attributable only to immigration, is associated with a 0.4-0.5 percent increase in income per worker in that state.

Immigration during the 1990s and the 2000s significantly increased the presence of foreign-born workers in the United States, but the increase was very unequal across states. In The Effect of Immigration on Productivity: Evidence from US States (NBER Working Paper No. 15507), NBER Research Associate Giovanni Peri analyzes state-by-state data to determine the impact of immigration on a variety of labor market outcomes, including employment, average hours worked, and average skill intensity, and on productivity and income per worker.

Peri reports a number of distinct findings. First, immigrants do not crowd-out employment of (or hours worked by) natives; they add to total employment and reduce the share of highly educated workers, because of their larger share of islow-skilled relative to native workers. Second, immigrants increase total factor productivity. These productivity gains may arise because of the more efficient allocation of skills to tasks, as immigrants are allocated to manual-intensive jobs, promoting competition and pushing natives to perform communication-intensive tasks more efficiently. Indeed, a measure of task-specialization of native workers induced by immigrants explains half to two thirds of the positive effect on productivity.

Third, Peri finds that inflows of immigrants decrease capital intensity and the skill-bias of production technologies. The decrease in capital intensity comes from an increase in total factor productivity; the capital-to-labor ratio remains unchanged because investment rises coincident with the inflow of immigrants. The reduction in the skill-intensity of production occurs as immigrants influence the choice of production techniques toward those that more efficiently use less educated workers and are less capital intensive.

Finally, Peri finds that for less educated natives, higher immigration has very little effect on wages, while for highly educated natives, the wage effect of higher immigration is positive. In summary, he finds that a one percent increase in employment in a US state, attributable only to immigration, is associated with a 0.4 to 0.5 percent increase in income per worker in that state.

A central challenge in establishing a causal link between immigration and economic outcomes is the fact that immigrants may be disproportionately attracted to states with strong economic performance. Peri recognizes this problem, and uses information on state characteristics, such as the location of a state relative to the Mexican border, the number of ports of entry, as well as the existence of communities of immigrants there before 1960 to predict immigrant inflows. He then studies how these predicted inflows, rather than actual inflows, are related to labor market outcomes. He argues that the state characteristics that underlie his predictions are not likely to be associated with either labor market outcomes or productivity. He also controls for several other determinants of productivity that may vary with geography such as R and D spending, computer adoption, international competition in the form of exports, and sector composition.


Japan’s Phony Solution

The half-truths about immigration.

By Paul J. Scalise | NEWSWEEK
Published Apr 30, 2010
From the magazine issue dated May 10, 2010

Should Japan welcome more immigrants? Diehard multiculturalists insist that migration to Japan is not only inevitable but also enhances “mutual understanding.” Others fear the opposite: the chaos these outsiders, or gaijin, conceivably bring to Japan’s safe streets and largely homogeneous society. Both extremes understand the politics of emotion far better than the economics of immigration, keeping the issue shrouded in half-truths.

The problem is usually described in apocalyptic terms, roughly as follows. According to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, Japan’s population has peaked. A downward turn is expected to follow, reaching close to 100 million in 2050 and 45 million in 2105. That means fewer workers paying fewer taxes to support an already expanding army of senior citizens. With social security, pensions, and interest payments on the national debt occupying more than 50 percent of Japan’s national budget in 2009 (up from 19 percent in 1960), the government, sooner or later, will face a decision of crisis proportions. Does it raise taxes sharply? Cut benefits drastically? Go deeper into debt? Or throw open the doors to young foreigners to restore balance between workers and retirees?

What the debate misses, however, is that immigration reform will likely have a muted impact on Japan’s standard of living if productivity continues to sour and Japanese women remain underutilized. Robert Alan Feldman, chief economist at Morgan Stanley Japan, figures that Japan would need between 7.4 million and 11 million immigrants to maintain a comparable standard of living in 2012 alone, depending on the decline in Japan’s local productivity. Should immigrants bring dependent families, Feldman says this “avalanche” would have to be closer to 20 million.

Hardly anyone realizes how unlikely Japan is to open up to an immigration boom of such magnitude without answering some difficult questions: what kind of immigrants does it want and how to attract them? One problem is that bringing in too many low-skilled immigrants too quickly risks increasing competition for low-skilled jobs and reducing the earnings of low-skilled native-born workers, according to immigration economist Barry R. Chiswick. In this view, because of their low earnings, low-skilled immigrants tend to pay less in taxes than they receive in public benefits. So while the presence of low-skilled immigrant workers may raise the profits of their employers, Chiswick notes, “they tend to have a negative effect on the well-being of the low-skilled native-born population, and on the native economy as a whole.”

Highly skilled, high-wage immigrants present their own problems. Feldman’s Japan model assumes that the average immigrant would be less productive than local hires because of different languages, work habits, traditions, and educational needs. And what’s never explained is how to attract the “right” immigrants and assimilate them in the first place. Right now, Japan’s average compensation per employee (adjusted for purchasing-power parity) is 36 percent lower than in the U.S. and 15 percent lower than in the euro area, according to the OECD. Worse, monthly cash earnings have been falling slowly for the past decade. If Japan wants to attract doctors, nurses, and engineers, and keep them, it needs to pay them more. And therein lies the rub. Is it really worth it in the long run?

Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare estimates the fiscal cost and benefits of an influx at three different stages of an immigrant’s life. In stage one, when only single youths are admitted, the government gains more in tax payments than it pays in benefits. In stage two (with spouse) and stage three (with spouse and two children), the benefits paid by the local and central governments far exceed the tax revenues. If 500,000 migrants were to enter Japan in stage three, the ministry estimates, the net loss would become a whopping ¥1.1 trillion, or about $12 billion.

No one knows for certain the extent of the blowback if Japan were to be the migrant sponge of East Asia’s and Latin America’s poor. Instead of a cost-benefit analysis, pundits, activists, and the mainstream media focus mainly on the politics, rarely the economics. Either immigrants are depicted as a feel-good panacea to everything that ails Japan, who are kept at bay by a xenophobic Japanese government, or they are deemed devious criminals and a threat to society. Neither is accurate. Both are distracting. It’s time the focus of debate changed.

Scalise is research fellow at the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies, Temple University, Japan Campus.


More on author Paul J. Scalise and his complicated relationship with here.

Holiday post: Japan Times editorial calling for the removal of its own Berlin Walls


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Hi Blog.  As a holiday post (enjoy your first shard of Golden Week, everyone), here’s an excerpt of one person’s essay in the JT calling for change in Japan’s approach to the world.  Much of what is said there has been said here.  Enjoy.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo.


For Japan to thrive, the wall must come down
By ROBERT DUJARRIC, Director, Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies at Temple University, Japan Campus
Special to The Japan Times, Wednesday, April 14, 2010, Courtesy of Kevin

More than 20 years have passed since the Berlin Wall fell, yet Japan remains shut out from the rest of humanity by its own wall. Though it is a shapeless partition that we cannot touch, it nevertheless cuts off the country from the world beyond its shores. What are the characteristics of this invisible barrier?

It serves as much to prevent inbound flows as outward ones. Japan is the only major developed nation where almost none of the men and women of influence — in the realm of ideas, business or government — are from foreign backgrounds. Tokyo, as opposed to other global metropolises, has no cosmopolitan flavor. There is a striking paucity of Japanese people teaching in foreign universities, writing about the humanities and social sciences or contemporary politics in scholarly journals or mass-circulation magazines and Web sites, and working in multinational corporations, international organizations and nongovernmental organizations.

This intangible forcefield harms Japan much more than is generally realized. It condemns Japanese universities, especially in the humanities and social sciences, to international irrelevance. This is not to say that Japan lacks great researchers — it has plenty of them. But they operate in an environment with few foreign colleagues and students (except for a few Asian countries), are under-represented in international conferences, and rarely publish in global journals. Thus, their ideas remain locked within the boundaries of the wall.

Rest of the article at


How the mighty have fallen: Forbes ranks world’s leading companies, Japan with only 3 in top 100, Toyota drops from 3rd to 360th


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Hi Blog.  To kick off this week, some important economic news.  As the air keeps going out of the Japanese economy, we have world rankers of companies noting Japan’s comparative slippage.  Forbes has its say below (compare with a decade ago).  This might be a temporary blip, or Japan (particularly Toyota) might rise from the ashes again (good luck on that), but in any case this news isn’t good.  And it’s one more bellwether to me of the unsustainability (not just “souring”) of the system here in Japan.  It will not only affect Japan’s standing as Asia’s “representative” to the world (hello China and its even less liberal human rights policies), but also Japan’s self image and it’s ability to cope with the outside world (and the residents from the outside world who live here).  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Toyota plummets to 360th in Forbes ranking
Japan Times/Kyodo Friday, April 23, 2010

NEW YORK (Kyodo) Toyota Motor Corp. has fallen to 360th in the Forbes ranking of the world’s leading companies for 2010, plunging from third the previous year.

The sharp drop came after the automaker was hit by a spate of recalls worldwide and a decline in sales amid the global auto market slump.

Only three Japanese companies — NTT Corp., Mitsubishi Corp. and Honda Motor Co. — were ranked in the top 100, compared with 11 the previous year, indicating the diminished presence of domestic firms in the global economy. NTT was ranked 41st, Mitsubishi 78th and Honda 86th.

Major financial groups also fell in the rankings, hit by deteriorating earnings, with Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc. dropping to 369th from 21st.

China, moving in the opposite direction, had seven firms in the top 100, with Industrial and Commercial Bank of China ranked fifth.

JPMorgan Chase topped the rankings, followed by General Electric and Bank of America.

Full article at

Kyodo: Japan’s depopulation accelerates in 2009


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Hi Blog.  As demographics accelerate their downward spiral, it becomes clearer day by day that the status quo is unsustainable and immigration is inevitable.  More fodder for that argument follows.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


No. of Japanese aged over 65 at record high
Kyodo News/Japan Today Saturday 17th April 2010,
Courtesy of MMT and many others

The proportion of Japan’s population aged 65 and over hit a record high of 22.7% last year—sign of its fast-aging society, the government reported Friday.

By contrast, the percentage of children aged 14 and below has fallen to 13.3%—the lowest proportion among 27 countries with populations of more than 40 million, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications said in an annual report.

That compares with a child population of 20% in the U.S., and 13% for those aged 65 and over.

Japan’s overall population as of Oct 2009 shrank to 127.51 million, down 183,000 people from a year earlier—the largest decline since the country’s population started shrinking five years ago, the ministry said. Some 29 million people are aged 65 or over, up from 28.2 million a year earlier.

The results add to concerns over Japan’s labor shortage, declining tax income and overburdened public pension system.

Japan’s working-age population—those aged between 15 to 64—accounted for 63.9%, the lowest proportion since the 1950s, the report said. The comparable figure in the U.S. is 67%.

The ministry said a net decrease of 125,000 people living in Japan, also contributed to the population decrease last year. That includes 47,000 foreign nationals, many of them laborers who lost jobs at factories during the global economic slump.