Outgoing BOJ chief Fukui Toshihiko proposes debate on immigration


Hi Blog. Here’s something getting buried with all the debate over who’s going to be the next Bank of Japan Governor (for the LDP, when in doubt, put the same guy up again). Surprise to all those who think immigration is meaningless for Japan’s future–even the most influential economist in Japan disagrees.

Bonus: Proof positive (see Nonaka comment below) that even J immigration policy, such as it was, was based on racial paradigms of analyzing “foreigners” (bring in Nikkei to “ease social frictions”; boy were you wrong). Debito in Sapporo

ANALYSIS: BOJ chief Fukui proposes debate on immigration
Associated Press, Mar 7 2008 09:59 PM US/Eastern
Courtesy of Adam Wallace

TOKYO, March 8 (AP) – (Kyodo)—Outgoing Bank of Japan Governor Toshihiko Fukui believes Japan ought to hold an in-depth discussion on immigration in the face of its aging and declining population.

In a lecture late last month, Fukui, who is due to retire March 19, said the source of economic growth is an infusion of labor and the accumulation of capital but that manpower is decreasing in Japan because of the ongoing rise in the number of the elderly and fall in the number of newborns.

He said European countries and the United States face the same population problem but maintain higher economic growth than Japan, citing immigration as a primary reason for it.

“The time has come for Japan to thoroughly discuss whether it expects society to grow (by accepting immigrants) or hopes for a single-race society without much growth,” he said.

The number of Japanese aged 65 or older accounted for 21.0 percent of the population, the highest percentage in the world, according to a preliminary census in 2005. The rate of those aged 13 or younger was 13.6 percent, the lowest in the world.

The issue of the aging society with a falling birthrate has been discussed and various proposals made by business circles. Fukui’s comments appear to be a call for the issue to be taken up in the political arena.

But, in fact, the government of the late Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi addressed the matter after it was inaugurated in July 1998. Taichi Sakaiya, a Cabinet minister and director general of the Economic Planning Agency, stressed the need for acceptance of immigrants.

The Economic Strategy Council, an advisory body to the prime minister, called for acceptance and expansion of immigrants in a report titled “Strategy for revitalization of the Japanese economy” that was submitted to Obuchi in 1999. The expert panel, working on devising a “concept of Japan in the 21st century” under the direct control of the prime minister, clearly stated the need for an immigration policy in its final report compiled in 2000. It reportedly reflected the intent of the prime minister’s office.

Hiromu Nonaka, then chief Cabinet secretary and a powerful political figure at the time, said in response to a question from Kyodo News that Japan should accept immigrants “in the future.” To begin with, he suggested that Japan start accepting descendants of Japanese immigrants abroad to help ease social frictions at home.

The Obuchi government, however, was up to its ears working out pump- priming measures for the economy and coping with a political power struggle. Obuchi died of a cerebral infarction at age 62 in May 2000 after suffering a stroke and falling into a coma.

Subsequently, Nonaka quit politics and the immigration issue never got off the ground for comprehensive discussion.

An awareness of belonging to a single race has been deeply rooted in Japan, generating a feeling of reluctance to accept immigrants. Furthermore, income disparities among people between big cities and local areas have become a big issue in the past few years, depriving society of any leeway to receive immigrants and creating circumstances that make it difficult for the immigration issue to become a topic for politicians to discuss.

The question of whether it is right or wrong to accept immigrants will inevitably become a political issue since Japan has entered the era of coping with an aging society with fewer children in the absence of any conspicuously effective measures to wrestle with a dwindling birthrate.

Hidenori Sakanaka, director of the Japan Immigration Policy Institute and a former Justice Ministry bureaucrat, said acceptance of immigrants by Japan would be a “social revolution.” His institute has proposed that the nation receive 10 million immigrants over a 50-year period to bolster its aging and declining population.

As Fukui is preparing his exit as central bank chief, his comments on Japan’s immigration policy are leaving Japanese politicians battling over his successor with a lot of food for thought.

2 comments on “Outgoing BOJ chief Fukui Toshihiko proposes debate on immigration

  • …hopes for a single-race society without much growth…
    But Japan is NOT a single-race society! Where is the genetic marker unique to all Japanese, but missing from everyone else? Generations of people from Hokkaido are clearly from a different racial background from generations from Kyushu. (Obviously due to different waves of immigration, from Northern China and the Steppes in the former case, and from Polynesia in the latter case.) So the primise is fundamentally flawed to begin with! When are these racists going to learn?!

  • To nitpick: I’m not sure I would call Fukui an economist. He’s a central banker.

    Immigration is happening now, and it will continue to happen, though we have no idea to what extent it will increase or decrease yet.

    However, I have yet to hear a convincing argument asserting that increased immigration can do anything to help what ills Japan’s economy.

    Increased productivity rates, GDP growth, increased consumer demand and reduced national debt are the hallmarks of economic improvement, and I’ve set to see a plan showing how any of those conditions could result from increased levels of immigration.


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