Yomiuri: GOJ sky-pie policy proposes to deal with rural population decrease with resettlement info websites, and robots!


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Hi Blog.  Getting back to issues of Japan’s future, here is the GOJ once again last August offering another trial-balloon half-measure to reverse Japan’s population decline (especially in its rural areas):  A database!  And robots!

Of course, the Yomiuri diligently types it down and offers it up uncritically, with the typical pride of showing off “Japan’s stuff”.  The policy assumption is that if you offer people information, they’ll magically want to move out to the countryside — up to now they were just chary because they didn’t know where they could get an onigiri in Nakamura-son, Inaka-Ken.

That’s unrealistic.  It’s not a matter of lack of information.  It’s a matter of lack of economic opportunity for Japan’s largely white-collar labor force (the “potential migrants” being mentioned, of course, are Japanese) being offered out in The Boonies.  Hasn’t the GOJ gotten the memo yet after more than a quarter century of Japanese turning their noses away from 3K blue-collar work?  Not to mention the inevitable “Taro-come-lately” outsider treatment from the locals that greets many Japanese urbanites deciding to move out of the cities?  Fact is, Japan’s ruralities are even giving their land away for free, and it’s not stemming the exodus from.

No matter:  Just build it and they’ll come.  Hasn’t the GOJ learned anything from the Bubble Era?

Moreover, how about that other proposal below of introducing more robots in service areas to produce the 3K stuff?

Laced within that Industrial Policy is an appeal to national pride, as in Japan’s future as a world leader in robot use (without the actual substance of practicality behind it).  Ooh, our robots can produce bentos?  Can yours, France?  Then what: build robots to consume what robots produce?  No matter what, offering robots as replacements for humans in the labor market inevitably overlooks how this does nothing to revitalize Japan’s taxpayer base, because ROBOTS DO NOT PAY TAXES.

There is another option, the unmentionable:  Immigrants assuming the mantle of Japan’s farming economy and rural maintenance.  No, you see, that would be a security risk.  Too high a local foreign population would mean those areas might secede from Japan!  (Seriously, that is the argument made.)

Anyway, another pavement stone in the road to policy failure.  As we start a new year, I’d just mention it for the record.  Dr. ARUDOU, Debito


Japan in Depth / Govt tackles population decline
The Yomiuri Shimbun
August 26, 2014, courtesy of Peach

Migration info database eyed

In an effort to address population declines in provincial areas, the government plans to create a database to provide people thinking of moving from urban to regional areas with information about potential destinations, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

The government hopes to encourage more urbanites to move to regional areas by making it possible for them to extensively search for information on such issues as residency and welfare services anywhere in the country, according to informed sources.

Expenses to set up the database reportedly will be included in the fiscal 2015 budgetary request.

Using the database, potential migrants would be able to quickly obtain information on workplaces and job offers; schools and education; medical institutions and social welfare services; and shopping, the sources said.

Information provided directly from regional areas will be input into the database by Hello Work job placement offices and other entities, as well as by municipal governments trying to encourage urbanites to take up residency in their cities.

Municipalities facing serious population declines have individually offered information about job offers as well as available accommodation. The planned database will enable people thinking about moving to regional areas to view this information collectively, the sources said.

For example, if a resident of an urban community is considering a move to a prefecture in the Tohoku region, the database could be used to find areas meeting their needs by comparing information, such as what kind of jobs are available or the locations of schools.

Along with the database, the central government reportedly plans to establish offices to help people living in large cities move to provincial areas. The government hopes potential migrants will consult with counselors or obtain more detailed information at the offices, the sources said.

Among people interested in moving to regional areas, some are believed to be hesitant about making the move because of a lack of information about life outside major urban areas. The database is aimed at addressing that concern, they said.

More robots in service industry planned

The government plans to promote the development of robots for use in the service industry, such as at hotels and pubs, to cope with the industry’s worsening problems of labor shortages and heavy workloads, according to sources.

In September, the government is expected to establish a panel dubbed the “committee for the realization of the robot revolution,” which will comprise manufacturers and users of robots, and plans to subsidize programs judged to have bright prospects.

The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry intends to include ¥5 billion in its budgetary requests for fiscal 2015 for robot development and related projects.

The government envisages robots for such jobs as cleaning the stairs and bathrooms of hotels and changing bed sheets. It is also considering developing robots for use at factories, such as robots that pack bento boxes. The plan is to have such robots on the market within three years, the sources said.

The utilization of robots in the service industry has been lagging behind the manufacturing industry, as robot makers have made development for the manufacturing industry a higher priority because of higher prices.

Even so, some robots are already in use in the service industry. For example, some Japanese-style inns have introduced a robot capable of automatically delivering a large amount of meals near guestrooms, which has helped improve the efficiency of the inns’ services.

The government believes the widespread use of robots could dramatically reduce the burden of service industry workers.

It has set a goal of expanding the market size of robots for the nonmanufacturing sector, such as the service industry, to ¥1.2 trillion in 2020—about 20 times larger than that in 2012. The development of robots in nursing care and agriculture is progressing, so the government is aiming to expand robot development to other industries so Japan can lead the world in the utilization of robots.


24 comments on “Yomiuri: GOJ sky-pie policy proposes to deal with rural population decrease with resettlement info websites, and robots!

  • John (Yokohama) says:

    My favourite part of the article:

    “committee for the realization of the robot revolution,”

    Dark humour.

    I have said the same thing to many people here about robots not paying taxes but I never get much of a response.

  • What does “3K blue-collar work” mean? What does “3K” mean?

    — Sorry. 3K stands for a type of work in Japan, an abbreviation of “kitanai kiken kitsui“, or “dirty, difficult, and dangerous”. It’s work disfavored by Japan’s white-collar workers. I assume you know what blue-collar means.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    Well, if I remember correctly, the Softbank ‘Pepper’ robot was built by a French company that Softbank owns now, and the Nissan ‘self-driving car’ that Abe praised as an example of Japanese advanced technology was developed by Renault, who own a controlling share of Nissan.

    So much for Japanese robots- the French seem to be world leaders.

    And you are correct, robots don’t pay taxes, and the unemployed don’t have money to spend.

    Except that ‘this is Japan’, so there won’t be legions of unemployed, there will just be millions of temporary contract workers living on the poverty line, and saving as much as they can afford to due to job insecurity.

    The problem with the countryside is the lack of work, and the centralization of everything in Tokyo. Sure, there are rail-lines from everywhere to Tokyo now, but (as in Hokkaido), as the rural communities die out due to old age, the number of passengers will slump, the lines will become unprofitable, and be forced to close. The countryside will die if it has nothing to offer but back breaking agricultural work- young Japanese don’t want to do it in sufficient numbers.

    And so, Japan will try EVERYTHING, and SPEND as much money as it can on all these lost cause initiatives rather than accept immigration as the most painless solution. Until the Japanese feel the economic and standard of living decline induced pain to the point where they are unable to ‘ganbaru’ any longer, this will not change.

    And, quite frankly, when it gets that bad, who will want to come? As you yourself have pointed out before Dr. Debito, potential immigrants are ‘Japan passing’ for fresher pastures.

  • A sad and pathetic indictment of Japanese society and the racist elite discourse that has led to this. The Japanese would rather have plastic metals and robots wipe their asses in old age than another human with a warm smile, but with different color skin. Can you imagine a black doctor treating Japanese oyagi or obatarian?

    Was in a provincial city with my family and child over New Year and went to the local カプリチョーザ for a pizza and pasta. I couldn’t, couldn’t absolutely believe it. Some student baito girl – I am old enough to be her daughter – gaijinized me in front of my daughter and wife. Twenty years here, with a business and…well…let’s not say too much about me….being met by bemusement and non comprehension over ordering a meal.

    The usual dance began; we’ve all had it with these racist brainwashed morons. Fortunately my wife is very supportive and did not play along, but after I gave the girl a real go after what I can only describe as getting the order deliberately wrong, and the manager came with the attitude of getting rid of the troublemaking gaijin, my wife gave him an earful too.

    Absolutely disgusting and pathetic. Omotoenashi? Kiss my ass. Going back to the previous entry, omotebashi is just another form of othering.

    When a 20-year-old deliberately won’t understand a foreigner ordering a pizza despite it being her job to take orders for pizza, when she’s so brainwashed and stupefied by racist rubbish and preconceived notions she’s lost the ability for basic rational and/or empathetic human communications, you know this country is doomed.

  • Why do people assume that immigrants to Japan will happily work on farms or labor in factories in the hinterlands? If people from developing nations are moving to Japan for better economic opportunities, they will head straight for the cities and most will choose Tokyo or Yokohama since they are the two largest Japanese cities by population, making it easier to blend in with everyone else.

    Trying to import an underclass to do the dirty work is not what immigration policy should be about in reality. That kind of immigration policy will seem very racist and elitist when examined closely. Immigrants cannot be treated like slave labor, and bringing in people from other lands just to do unskilled labor is insulting and will ultimately fail since people will gravitate to better opportunities when they find the chance.

    — That’s not what’s being advocated at Debito.org. You are criticizing the wrong people.

  • Jim di Griz says:


    It’s a sad inditement indeed that the Japanese government has created this illusion that it’s lack of an formal immigration policy is protecting Japanese stuck in the hinterland doing agriculture, or 3K jobs from a flood of immigrants who will displace them.

    A total straw man argument, that the sheeple have swallowed hook, line, and sinker.

    After all, why would some give up a low paid agricultural or 3K job in thier home country, to move to Japan and do the same? It makes no sense- they wouldn’t do it.

    You are correct- immigrants want to use thier specialist skills or training to do professional jobs that aren’t paid as well in thier home countries, don’t exist in thier home countries, or don’t have enough opportunities in thier home countries.

    Openning Japan to immigration would not save Japan’s domestic agriculture industry. The system needs to change- become more modern, efficient, competitive or die. Hence Abe’s ‘3rd arrow’, which must surely have rusted away by now from lack of use. Thier is no political will to change the agricultural model in Japan, so it will die of old age naturally, and with it communities will become ghost towns.

    And in denying immigration, the Japanese focus on how they avoid the fears they have of the ‘other’ upsetting thier ‘wa’, and confusing them about Japanese identity. However, this approach totally fails to recognize all the contributions that immigrants can bring, as hard working professionals in world-class industries, entrepreneurship, and specialized skills, that Japan desperately needs and cannot do for itself.

    The system is set up to fail, just so that J-society can reassure itself (even to the point of extinction), that it is ‘unique’.
    A perfect example is the NJ nurses and caregivers that Debito.org had covered in the past.

  • I had an Indian doctor as a kid. I’m sure my mother and I did or said some inappropriate things about him at some point, but I cannot remember my mother EVER treating me the way some people in Japan treat me.

    And all I can think when I hear the immigration debate in Japan is, “If Japan is such a great place to live, like the government seems to think, where are the Indian doctors?”

    Because my allergist was one of the kindest, most intelligent men I ever knew as a child. He was super serious, and never laughed – but he was so warm and kind, and attentive.

    The doctors I’ve encountered in Japan have been cold, careless. Of course, last time I was in the States, the doctor I talked to was pretty much the same, so maybe I was just lucky as a kid to have the world’s best allergist.

    Still. I kind of hold that as a mark against Japan whenever I go to see the doctor, and…they all look and sound the same, and have the same names.

    If there were a Singhu Kurinikku in my neighborhood, let me tell you that I would never go anywhere else.

  • “After all, why would some give up a low paid agricultural or 3K job in thier home country, to move to Japan and do the same? It makes no sense – they wouldn’t do it.”

    Sorry, I beg to differ; it makes a lot of sense, if the new country gives you a better life standard overall. Isn’t this the case for example with America and its southern neighbor? Same thing happening in the EU, and possibly in many other places (IDK, maybe also Asian immigrants/laborers in Saudi Arabia and the vicinities thereof?).
    It’s the usual thing – people from poor countries immigrating to those more affluent ones. And at least in the case of migration within the EU, *definitely* not all of them are equipped with “specialist skills or training”. Arguably, it’s the low-skilled immigrants that are in the majority, at least this seems to be the case of my home country. They suffer often the same kind of abuse as ‘trainees’ in Japan, still, back home sucks that bad that it’s still worth taking a risk.
    All in all, as sad as this is, I think there is a lot of desperate people around the world likely to take a shot at a 3K job in Japan, if they only got the opportunity to do so.

    Personally, I am all in all for high-skilled immigration, but I am somewhat skeptical about whether it’s really a good idea for a country to accept low-skilled migrants…………..

    I must admit though, this coming from me makes me quite the hypocrite, since I am also willing to work in Japan (because of what I perceive as a a lack of “enough opportunities in thier home countries”), even though, I have to be honest, I do not have any *real* skills – remember that Japan Times article from some time ago? I am not an English teacher, but pretty close – being able to speak English is probably my main asset right now…

  • Jim di Griz says:

    @ Anonimasu #8

    ‘Sorry, I beg to differ; it makes a lot of sense, if the new country gives you a better life standard overall.’

    Sure, but Japan isn’t offering them that, and will have less to offer in future.

  • @FaithnoMore

    I get gaijinized all the time in Osaka. The latest was last week at a coffee shop in crysta nagahorie. When I got to the front of the line, I could tell that it was going to happen because the 16 or so y/o staff looked at me, frowned, squinted her eyes (“this is gonna hurt”) and leaned in towards me, without saying a greeting or anything (“he’s a gaijin, he won’t understand!).

    I asked for a ミルクティー。My spoken Japanese is quite good but she looked at me with puzzlement (“Nothing but clicks and whistles!”)

    Was it her first encounter with a foreiegner? Maybe, who knows, but what must she have had to have learned at this point in her life to act so oddly around me?

    Japan is not ready for the other 98% of the world.

  • Baudrillard says:

    @ Anonimasu ” They suffer often the same kind of abuse as ‘trainees’ in Japan, still, back home sucks that bad” – in that case it would have to suck incredibly bad, but dont forget the J trainees have their passports confiscated in some cases and are under a kind of curfew or even house arrest with no phones allowed- if it was as bad as THIS in their home country, how could they ever be allowed to leave to come to Japan?

    I think in some cases in Japan we are reaching a “South Park Mexican” point- where the abuse, job conditions and discrimination get so bad that Mexicans on masse decide to go back to Mexico; so bad that border patrol has to reverse policy and try to stop them leaving rather than stop them coming in, lol.

  • “Personally, I am all in all for high-skilled immigration, but I am somewhat skeptical about whether it’s really a good idea for a country to accept low-skilled migrants…………”

    With respect to Japan, I found myself nodding when I read this, and it made me think about the immigrants I worked and lived with back in Canada. Most first generation immigrants were alright with the low skill, menial jobs, sometimes a step down from the social status in their own countries, as long as their kids did not have to work at them. Every immigrant I met was working to get their kids into university and then on to a better life. That was the promise implicit in their immigrating to Canada. This is, in my opinion, the biggest hurdle for Japan today.

    Those of us with ‘half’ kids probably spend some time wondering if their mixed-race status will be an advantage or a detriment. It seems as though it can go both ways. I doubt the Brazilians amongst us are so conflicted, though, as the Japanese system has seemingly failed to integrate their children with any tangible success.

    I don’t put this all on the Japanese — Canada took its sweet time learning how to integrate people and widen the opportunities for newcomers (and it still sucks to be aboriginal). This in mind, I do wonder what Japan is capable of doing if progressive immigration policies were embraced. I worry more that large groups of foreigners will end up in Japan to do 3k jobs out of expediency, only to have their children faced with marginal upward mobility.

    Bad for them and bad for us.

  • John (Yokohama) says:

    It’s always the robots that are preferred to immigrants… people buy stuff, robots don’t.

    “Demanding baby robot consoles solitary elderly people, keeps them busy”


    Demanding baby robot consoles solitary elderly people, keeps them busy
    Asahi Shinbun January 11, 2015
    By NAOKO KOBAYASHI/ Staff Writer

    NAGOYA–To help alleviate a sense of isolation among elderly people living alone, a robot baby that craves constant attention from its “parent” like a newborn will hit the market on Jan. 21.

    Jointly developed by Masayoshi Kano, an associate professor of robotics at Chukyo University in Nagoya, and Togo Seisakusyo Corp., based in Togo, Aichi Prefecture, the “Smiby” robot has an installed sensor that allows it to react when “parents” cradle it in their arms.

    The baby robot measures 44 centimeters in height and weighs 1.2 kilograms and perceives its posture and movements by the embedded sensor.

    When the Smiby is picked up in its parent’s arms, it is programmed to start laughing, but if left alone for a while, it will start crying. If a parent neglects to pay attention to it even longer, the robot will fall asleep.

    When the Smiby is swung too hard, it will start crying, with tears being indicated by blue lights, and its cheeks turn pink when it is happy with attention and care being lavished by a parent.

    The Smiby makes about 500 types of voices and sounds depending on situations, replaying sounds the researchers recorded over a period of six months from 1-year-old infants.

    It is made of plastic and silicon and utilizes Togo Seisakusyo’s technology to manufacture advanced resin springs for automobiles. It can operate for about 10 hours on a charged battery.

    Elderly people who tested the prototypes of the Smiby said that they had a therapeutic effect on them. Among nine elderly people who tested the robots at home for a month in November 2014, five said they alleviated their symptoms of depression.

    The robot is priced at 68,000 yen ($570) excluding tax, but its developers plan to loan samples to care facilities for the elderly at no charge.

  • Debito, can we get an edit on my comment? I meant to say that my mother never treated MY DOCTOR the way people in Japan treat ME. That is to say, my mother was very good at NOT “othering” people in our life. At least she never did in front of her children.

    There were a few different kinds of people in my neighborhood as a kid, and we certainly never, ever screamed things at them as we rode by on our bikes. And I really think I can credit my mother for that, for never, ever saying snide or rude things about them behind their backs. It was always Mrs. Jones, the nice Burmese lady – NEVER the foreign woman married to Mr. Jones. Never. And that’s important and powerful: because I can see why I would scream at a woman my mother calls “the foreign lady.” But when your mom calls them “Mrs. Jones, the nice Burmese woman,” that’s not someone you scream at. That’s a real human being, and my mother gave me that sense of respect for people.

    Sorry for the typo – I sure wish you had an edit button, Debito. Now I feel like I have to write this whole other comment to clarify what I meant :-/


  • I also wonder how people shilling for Robots can keep a straight face when they do it. A robot which changes bed-sheets, as posited above, would be incredibly expensive, such that only the super rich could afford it, and also of incredibly limited use – it needs a human to maintain it and to re-stock it etc. And who washes the bed-sheets? Who buys new bed-sheets? etc.etc.etc.

    The day of the robots looking after Japan’s elderly is a pipe dream for anyone alive today. People must realise that, right?
    They’ve only just recently got their ATMs to operate after business hours.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ TJJ, #15

    The people in charge of policy have a rather limited understanding of reality (again), and those who are responsible for funding the research seem to be quite gullible.

    Yes, these robots would be of limited use, requiring many different, expensive robots to do all of the tasks that are essential for the other robots to change the sheets. And even if these robots could be cheaply developed, produced, and sold, there would be many more robots in Japan than old people. Who will look after the robots? Japan would replace it’s caregiver crisis with an engineer shortage. And I think Indonesian/Vietnamese/Filipino engineers are more difficult to find and keep than Indonesian/Vietnamese/Filipino caregivers.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    It was only a matter of time…

    Japan’s sudden introduction to the reality of what’s happening in the Middle-East has resulted (according to an article in the JT) in the weekly magazines saying;

    ‘The Abe administration’s policy of opening up Japan to more blue-collar foreigners to deal with the labor pinch might be ill-advised’.

    That’s a handy excuse for not enacting any reform, introducing an immigration policy, and ensuring NJ have equal rights under the law, isn’t it?

    They go on;
    ”’ you don’t need to point just to France — all immigration policies have failed,” says France-based journalist Yuji Hirooka.’

    ALL? Really? I’d disagree with that, and challenge Hirooka for proof, since he’s a man from a country that has no immigration policy at all.

    Hirooka doesn’t stop there;
    ‘Mainly countries bring in immigrants for cheap labor because they don’t want to pay higher wages. It’s inevitable that such people wind up at the bottom of society.’

    Well, it’s inevitable if the system sets them up to fail, like it does in Japan. NJ nurses course, anyone? But in other countries, I’d disagree. After all, what about that great cultural melting pot, and land of immigration, the USA? What about one immigrant to that country from Japan, Nakamura? After all, instead of winding up ‘at the bottom’ he won a Nobel Prize, and the Japanese press refuse to call him ‘American’?


  • >and the Japanese press refuse to call him ‘American’?

    This really, really bothered me. Such hypocrisy.

    — Let’s find some newspaper reports to substantiate this.

  • Jim di Griz says:

    @ Dr. Debito #18

    Every Japanese news show and newspaper at the time talked about ‘three Japanese who won the Nobel Prize for blue LED’, even JT had a headline that said ‘3 Japanese’.

    — I can’t find the JT headline. Please send us some links for the record.

  • @TJJ

    “The day of the robots looking after Japan’s elderly is a pipe dream for anyone alive today. People must realise that, right?
    They’ve only just recently got their ATMs to operate after business hours.”

    Ha ha, very true. A.I. robots that can actually think? Well its been predicted it will take another 100 years or so?

    The US and somewhat in Japan, are making progress towards the self driving car, but I think it is mostly just spin off drone technology; that is using GPS guidance with very high speed processing and sensor capability. Im no scientist but A.I. seems to be still in development for many years to come.

    I have recently seen lots of job postings for gaijin elderly caregivers in Japan. The need is obviously there. Robots might do task like give out medical advice and pills etc; actually doing any lifting and caregiving, I hardly see it happening anytime soon either.

  • There is/was a bit of hair-splitting with Nakamura.

    I did a lot of Googling when the news broke, and I couldn’t find a single news headline that used the term “Amerika-jin.”

    Every headline I found said “Nihonjin, san-nin,” and referred to Nakamura in the text of the report as “Amerika-kokuseki.”

    So, depending on how you define “-jin,” which I realize now has no actual, set definition. Is it an ethnicity? Is it a citizenship?

    Note of course that TONS of people say, “Gaijin isn’t racist because -jin refers to citizenship, not race.” Well, no. It obviously doesn’t, because Nakamura is “Nihonjin” according to Japanese news.

    Again, though, this might be seen as splitting hairs, but I personally, after extensive Googling, couldn’t find a single news report referring to Nakamura as “Amerika-jin.” At the very least, the very word “Amerika” was kept out of the headlines, though many news stories readily admitted he was “Amerika-kokuseki.”

    So, in fairness, it isn’t completely black-and-white. My personal issue with it, of course, is that the way the news headlines referred to Nakamura – I feel it proved pretty clearly that “-jin” is not a mere citizenship signifier, but a clearly racial term.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Dr. Debito #19

    Interestingly, JT articles now say ‘Three Japan-born scientists’. Maybe someone read my mail of complaint?

    Anyway, here are some links that say ‘Three Japanese’;




    I hate to rag on Asahi shimbun, but there you go.

    3 Japanese scientists shine brightly with Nobel Prize in Physics for blue LED
    October 07, 2014

    Three Japanese scientists won the Nobel Prize in Physics on Oct. 7 for their roles in the development and application of the blue light-emitting diode (LED), which was praised for contributing to significant energy savings and being “of great benefit to mankind.”

    The three are Isamu Akasaki, 85, professor at Meijo University; Hiroshi Amano, 54, professor at Nagoya University; and Shuji Nakamura, 59, professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

    Akasaki and Amano created the blue LED for the first time. Nakamura succeeded in the practical use of the blue LED, which is used in today’s high-efficiency white electroluminescent light sources, which require 10 times less energy than ordinary light bulbs.

    The announcement was made by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

    The three became the 20th, 21st and the 22nd Japanese Nobel Prize laureates following Shinya Yamanaka, professor at Kyoto University, who was a co-winner of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 2012.

    The three are the eighth, ninth and 10th Japanese recipients of the Nobel Prize in Physics following Makoto Kobayashi, Toshihide Maskawa and Japanese-born American Yoichiro Nambu in 2008.

    The awards ceremony will be held in Stockholm on Dec. 10. The prize money of 8 million Swedish kronor (120 million yen, or $1.1 million) will be shared by the three.

  • — More on robots vs. foreigners, this time from investors (who again lean towards robots: investments they can control and apparently don’t have to take as much care of). Love the presumption about NJ below: “If you get a chance to get highly educated people for free, why not?”


    Robots and foreigners are the answer as Japan’s population ages, says investor Sawakami
    by Yuko Takeo and Nao Sano
    Bloomberg, Feb 10, 2015

    As Japan’s population ages and slowly declines, bring in the robots and foreigners.

    That is the view of Atsuto Sawakami, whose $2.6 billion eponymous stock fund beat the Topix index in 12 of the past 15 years. With pensioners holding most of the nation’s wealth and swelling in number, his fund will profit by buying shares in developers of assistive limbs and other companies that target elderly consumers, the 68-year-old said.

    Policy under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is being shaped by an awareness that the nation’s citizens are the oldest in the world. The government is doing everything from promoting greater female participation in the workforce to taking small steps toward welcoming more overseas workers in a nation where foreign residents make up less than 2 percent of the population. While Sawakami says he is for selective opening of the border, he is betting on the machines.

    Old people “have money, and if government subsidies aren’t enough they can pay for themselves,” Sawakami said in a recent interview in Tokyo. “That’s why I say robot suits” will have huge demand, he said.

    “We should be smart enough to think about immigration. If you get a chance to get highly educated people for free, why not?”

    From its inception on Aug. 24, 1999 through the end of January, the Sawakami Fund delivered a 106 percent gain, including reinvested dividends, according to its website. That compares with a total return of about 21 percent for the Topix. Japanese stocks account for about 96 percent of assets.

    Japan will lose four out of every 10 workers by 2060, shaving as much as 0.9 percentage point off potential growth, according to Cabinet Office projections. The population declined 0.1 percent to 127.02 million as of Jan. 1 from 127.12 million on Aug. 1, according to estimates by the statistics office. About 26 percent of people were aged 65 or over, the data show. By 2050, the total is projected to fall to 95 million.

    Faced with these prospects, the nation’s companies have embraced robotics. Japan counts among its ranks the kid-sized robot Asimo developed by Honda Motor Co. and Paro, a therapeutic robotic seal. It also includes Cyberdyne Inc., which develops bionic suits to help with movement, and makers of production-line automation technologies like Fanuc Corp.

    “So many companies in Japan are developing products that raise productivity, such as in factory automation,” said Takahiro Kusakari, Sawakami Asset Management’s chief investment officer. “We want to pick them up now.”

    Kusakari’s boss agreed, saying robots were a “big target” for the fund. On immigration, he says Japan should look at how the U.S. took in large numbers of professionals at times of upheaval in other countries, like accepting Russian scientists and engineers when the Soviet Union collapsed.

    “We believe that America was quite smart about this,” Sawakami said.

    Abe’s moves to open Japan’s doors have been limited. They include giving preferential immigration treatment to the highly skilled, and considering relaxing curbs on the entry of construction workers before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

    Sawakami’s views on welcoming immigrants, while not extreme, sit outside the mainstream. Most Japanese oppose accepting more people from overseas, according to a Yomiuri newspaper poll in April.

    The fund has about 120,000 investors, Sawakami said. He travels the country giving seminars on individual investing, doing more than 200 last year.

    While the aging society offers opportunities for stock picking, Sawakami prefers companies that look beyond Japan. A focus on individual equities rather than the broader market means that the nation’s deteriorating demographic profile will not affect prospects for long-term returns, he said. The company may start investing outside Japan once it is confident it has the necessary market knowledge, he said.

    As Sawakami approaches 70 years old, he is turning to neither foreigners nor robots. The founder is starting to pass the baton at his fund to the young, picking his 39-year-old son Ryo as president in January 2013 and Kusakari to head investments.

    Kusakari, 36, has not followed a standard finance career path. After graduating university he spent five years as a theater actor, and then started to sell mortgage loans, before becoming a customer-service representative at the fund and advancing from there.

    “I’m 68, an old soldier,” Sawakami said. “We need to get to the next generation.”


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