JT: “Coming of age: 1 in 8 new adults in Tokyo are not Japanese”; underanalyzed stats posing as media peg


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Hi Blog. And while I’m on the subject of questionable social science in journalism, let’s have a gander at this hopeful article in the JT, talking about how “1 in 8 new adults in Tokyo are not Japanese”.

Now that Japan’s Juuminhyou registry system no longer requires citizenship for actual Japan residency, foreign residents can actually be counted like real people (albeit not as the general Japanese demographic population, alas). That has enabled this article to offer a bit of statistical sleight-of-hand, as in saying that Japan is internationalizing because lots of emerging-adult non-citizens came of age in 2017, i.e., 13% of Tokyo’s population.

That’s fine, and a positive development as far as Debito.org is concerned. But not something all that headline-grabbing as a bellwether. After all, the article barely mentions the NJs’ visa status. Are these Permanent Residents who can stay here forever, and make a difference without fearing the loss of their visa? Or are they on something shorter and thus sweepable (or bribable) with the thud of a bureaucratic stamp of “nonrenewal”? (The article mentions the uptick in student and “trainee” visas; precisely my point.  This is not immigration; it’s a reflection of stopgap labor movement.)

And the true measure of internationalization — international Japanese citizens (i.e., Japanese children of international roots) — are not counted at all, once again showing the “embedded racism” of the process (by deliberately reducing Japan’s level of “foreignness” to more comfortable levels by only counting “pure” foreigners in isolation). Then what is a more newsworthy stat?  How about the record numbers each year of NJ residents with Permanent Residency?  That never seem to make much news blip. No wonder. That would actually mean something IS changing.

Instead, we get soft stats in soft newspaper articles like these. Again, fine, but we Old Japan Hands are getting rather sick of hearing prematurely how “Japan is changing” in the media, and getting our hopes up unnecessarily. Let’s have our journalists use some critical thinking and focus on more meaningful trends (such as the stat cited at the very bottom about Tokyo’s overall numbers of NJ residents; albeit again without accounting for visa status). Dr. Debito Arudou


Coming of age: 1 in 8 new adults in Tokyo are not Japanese, ward figures show
THE JAPAN TIMES, JAN 10, 2018 (excerpt)
Courtesy https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/01/10/national/coming-age-1-8-new-adults-tokyo-not-japanese-ward-figures-show/

Monday was Coming-of-Age Day, when thousands of new Japanese adults celebrated turning 20 while wearing traditional kimono in commemoration ceremonies.

(Photo courtesy of Reuters and the JT)

But it was not only Japanese citizens who observed the personal milestone in the country. In fact, this year more than 1 in every 8 new adults in Tokyo’s 23 wards are not Japanese citizens, figures compiled by The Japan Times show.

According to data provided by the 23 ward offices, 10,959 new non-Japanese adults live in central Tokyo, or 13 percent of the 83,764 new adults living in the city.


New adults are defined as those who turned 20 or will turn 20 between April 2, 2017 and April 1 of this year. Those with dual citizenship of Japan and another country are counted as Japanese citizens. In Japan, those with dual citizenship are obliged by law to choose one of the two nationalities by the age of 22.

The ratios look particularly high given that foreign residents accounted for only 4.4 percent of the 9.3 million people living in Tokyo’s 23 wards as of January 2017.


Experts attributed Tokyo’s recent surge in the number of young non-Japanese to a flood of foreign residents coming with student and training visas.

Japan is suffering from a labor shortage in part because its working population is shrinking due to a low birth rate. This has helped attract a vast number of young foreign workers, in particular to the capital, said Toshihiro Menju, managing director at the Japan Center for International Exchange in Tokyo.

“This trend will continue over the long run. So Japan should not deal with it through ad hoc measures,” he said.

Japan has officially banned the immigration of unskilled foreign laborers, but it has allowed numerous foreign workers to come and work with student and so-called technical trainee visas, Menju said.

According to the metropolitan government, those who live in the city with student visas nearly doubled from 58,764 in 2012 to 104,889 last year.


Meanwhile, Nobuharu Hikiba, an official with the metropolitan government in charge of policies for foreign residents, also noted that the total number of foreign residents has continued its increase in Tokyo recently and that more foreign residents are staying for longer periods in the capital.

According to the Justice Ministry, the number of foreign residents in Tokyo’s 23 wards surged 25.5 percent from 2013 to hit 410,650 in 2017.



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4 comments on “JT: “Coming of age: 1 in 8 new adults in Tokyo are not Japanese”; underanalyzed stats posing as media peg

  • I don’t see why not counting “international Japanese” (are those ppl with two nationalities?) is a problem. I thought the other way around. Counting “doubles” would inflate the numbers, and feign internationalization where none is.

    — I’m referring to “international Japanese” as “Japanese with international roots”. That includes people with two nationalities and/or people of international unions. People of this status are definitely a sign of internationalization (by definition, really), and depending where you draw the line (i.e., citizenship only, or roots as well) will “inflate” or “deflate” the numbers significantly.

    There will be some arbitrary measurement no matter what you do, but I say neither process “feigns internationalization”. I’d rather overcount than undercount, anyway: It’s more inclusive, by definition.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    Thank you for covering this Dr. Debito. It’s a smoke and mirrors trick to make Japan appear more open and less insular and parochial than it really is.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    Speaking of oddity in the photo(and the captions too)! Never mind that none of those kimono-clad women in the photo looks like foreign, biracial, or multi-cultural at all. Wonder the news media even bother go to the events and take a survey on diversity.

    — Well, I bet the editor would argue the woman on the far right “looks haafu“, in that she has a different hair color and rinkaku.

    • Andrew in Saitama says:

      Not “looking” international but being international might add some weight to a fluff article. Unfortunately, the reporting was sloppy and it appears that the JT used a stock photo.
      I would be more impressed if an almost identical photo described the subjects as hailing from (insert favourite Asians nation here, here and here)


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