Reuters: Keidanren business lobby calls for more immigrants


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Hi Blog.  Here’s some good news.  Keidanren is no longer just calling for more NJ workers to man our factories (and effectively provide cheap, disposable contract labor to keep us internationally competitive).  They are also using the word “immigrants”, meaning they want them to stay.  That’s good news.  Perhaps our questioning of one of the policy designers last year has had an effect (see below).  More commentary on Keidanren’s historical record after the article:


Japan business group calls for more immigrants

    TOKYO, Oct 13 (Reuters) – Japan’s most powerful business lobby will change its long-held policy and call on the nation to accept more immigrants, Mainichi newspaper reported on Monday, as the world’s fastest ageing nation faces serious labour shortages.

    The Japan Business Federation (Keidanren), whose policy on immigration to date has been to limit foreign labourers to fixed contracts, will announce the change on Tuesday, the Mainichi newspaper said.

    Keidanren officials could not immediately be reached for comment as Monday is a national holiday in Japan.

    The idea of allowing in more foreigners is seen by some Japanese as a risk to the country’s relatively crime-free and homogeneous society, and few Japanese employers offer immigrant workers the same rights as their Japanese colleagues.

    Mainichi’s report comes as Japan, with its shrinking population, faces serious economic consequences including labour shortages that could weigh on its GDP.

    Japan expects more than a quarter of its citizens to be aged over 65 by 2015 and its population is set to shrink by a third in 50 years if current trends continue.

    In its recommendations, Keidanren will note the necessity of changing laws to promote immigration as well as call for enhancements in Japanese language education and social security for immigrants, Mainichi said.

    Foreigners made up less than 2 percent of Japan’s nearly 128 million population in late 2007, government statistics show.

    Earlier this year, a group of ruling party lawmakers called on Japan to allow immigrants to make up 10 percent of the population in 50 years’ time.


FURTHER COMMENT:  To demonstrate how this is a development from the past, here’s what I wrote in the Newsletter dated May 27, 2006:



Since a major overseas magazine will soon be doing a large article on foreign labor in Japan, I finally sat down and webbed something I keep referring to in my Japanese writings on immigration and foreign labor in Japan: Fifteen pages of a special report in Shuukan Diamondo (Weekly Diamond) economics magazine, concerning the importance of Immigration to Japan, which ran on June 5, 2004. All scanned and now available at:


Cover: “Even with the Toyota Production style, it won’t work without foreigners. By 2050, Japan will need more than 33,500,000 immigrants!! Toyota’s castle town overflowing with Nikkei Brazilians. An explosion of Chinese women, working 22 hour days–the dark side of foreign labor”

Page 32: “If SARS [pneumonia] spreads, factories ‘dependent on Chinese’ in Shikoku will close down”.

Page 40-41: Keidanren leader Okuda Hiroshi offers “five policies”: 1) Create a “Foreigners Agency” (gaikokujin-chou), 2) Create bilateral agreements to receive “simple laborers” (tanjun roudousha), 3) Strengthen Immigration and reform labor oversight, 4) Create policy for public safety, and environments for foreigner lifestyles (gaikokujin no seikatsu kankyou seibi), 5) Create a “Green Card” system for Japan to encourage brain drains from overseas.

Remember that powerful business league Keidanren was the one lobbying in the late 80’s and early 90’s for cheap foreign workers (particularly Nikkei Brazilians) to come in on Trainee Visas, working for less than half wages and no social benefits, to save Japanese industry from “hollowing out”.

Now that Keidanren boss Okuda has stepped down in favor of Mitarai Fujio (, it’s time to see what Keidanren’s new tack on foreign labor, if any, will be. At 7:50 AM yesterday morning, NHK interviewed Mitarai, and made much of his 23 years living overseas with foreigners (and his comments were, sigh, directed towards “understanding foreign culture and traditions”; when will we outgrow that hackneyed and sloppy analytical paradigm?). The interview made no mention of foreigners within Japan, however. Do I hear the sound of hands washing?


Here’s something else I wrote for the November 19, 2007 Newsletter when I realized how ugly Keidanren’s underlying policy attitudes actually were last year:




I spoke at the above gathering ( for about 40 minutes today. This is a little note to tell you what transpired:


This is essentially a misnomer, as these kids (college age already) are fluent in Japanese with some background in the native tongue of their immigrant parents. I met youth from China, Brazil, Peru, and most famously a young lady from Iran who came here at age seven, overstayed with her parents for a decade, and was granted a visa after many misgivings from the GOJ. Same with a young Chinese lady whose family had to go through the courts (lower court denied, high court granted) for a stay of deportation and one-year visas. Although all of these kids were just about perfectly culturally fluent in Japan (having grown up here as a product of the new visa regime, which started from 1990), they had a variety of faces and backgrounds that showed a lovely blend–a very hopeful one for Japan’s future. They made the best argument possible for visa amnesties for NJ with families–an extended life here that they have not only adapted to, but even thrived under.

The problem was they were grappling with things they really shouldn’t have to to this degree–identity. Being pulled one way by family ties overseas, and then another by the acculturation of being in a society they like but doesn’t necessarily know what to do with them. And refuses to let them be of both societies, either way their phenotypes swing. I suggested they escape this conundrum of wasted energy by ignoring the “identity police” (people who for reasons unknown either take it upon themselves to tell people they are not one of them, or who find the very existence of Japanized non-Japanese somehow threatening their own identity). They should decide for themselves who they are. After all, the only person you have to live with 24 hours a day is yourself (and believe me it’s tough)–so you had better do what you have to do to be happy. That means deciding for yourself who you are and who you want to be without regard for the wishes (or random desires) of millions of people who can’t appreciate who you are by any means considered a consensus. Trying to second-guess yourself into the impossibly satisfied expectations of others is a recipe for mental illness.


Rather than telling you what I said, download my Powerpoint presentation here (Japanese):


Coming late to the second talk sessions was a representative of Keidanren (Japan’s most powerful business lobby), who was actually in charge of the federation’s policy towards business and immigration. He gave us a sheet describing future policy initiatives they would undertake, focusing optimistically on creating synergy between the varied backgrounds and energies of NJ and the diligence of Japanese companies.
Yet Keidanren is still trying to create an ultracentrifuge of “quality imported foreigners” over quantity (or heavens forbid–an open-door policy!). Orderly systematic entry with proper control, was the theme. And Taiwan’s system (for what it was worth, unclear) was cited.

When question time came up, I asked him whether Keidanren had learned anything from the visa regime they helped create (something he acknowledged) in 1990. All this talk of orderly imports of labor and synergy are all very well, but business’s blind spot is the overwhelming concern with the bottom line: People are imported and treated like work units, without adequate concern for their well-being or welfare after they get here. After all, if their standard of living was ever a concern, then why were the hundreds of thousands of people brought in under Researcher, Intern, and Trainee Visas made exempt from Japan’s labor laws–where they have no safeguards whatsoever (including health insurance, minimum wage, unemployment insurance, education? (Or anything save the privilege of living here with the dubious honor of paying taxes into the system anyway.) Did they expect to create a system where there are no legal sanctions for abuse, and expect employers not to abuse it?

The Keidanren rep’s answer was enlightening. He said, in essence:
1) Japan’s labor laws are sloppy anyway, and don’t protect people adequately enough as they are. (So that justifies exempting people from them completely?)

2) Japanese society is not wired for immigration. (So why bring in so many foreigners then? The expectation was that they would not stay — meaning the system was only designed to exploit?)

3) There are plenty of elements of civil society out there filling the gaps. (So you’re trying to take credit for those who try to clean up your messes?)

To me, quite clear evidence that they powers that be just don’t care. And it’s very clear it’s not clear that they’ve learned anything from the 1990s and the emerging NJ underclass.


Let’s hope Keidanren actually encourages immigration as opposed to just plain migration.  For a change.   Arudou Debito in Sapporo

4 comments on “Reuters: Keidanren business lobby calls for more immigrants

  • Once again, the Reuters article peddles the prevailing myth that Japan is a homogenous society. It never has been, as you can see merely by visting a family from Hokkaido and then one from Kyushu. Clear differences in racial background were visible even befoer DNA testing showed that Japanese people have as many varied homologues as anywhere else. What really needs to happen is for the accredited press agencies to start calling this misnomer for what it is. Otherwise, we will continue to be regarded as here on suffrance, rather than as co-equal participants in society.

  • Keidanren wants what’s good for business, which is more labour. Let’s not think for a second though that the vast majority of their members are overly concerned with the wellbeing of those they bring to Japan. They’re not.

  • this group is the same as an lobbyist group in america..simply put they care about profit over foreignors quality of life. and they will never change because they care about only the business aspect and not the humanity of foreign workers aspect..lets face it, that want cheap labor and thats all they care about..they dont care about foreign workers rights thats why they have two systems of hireing, one for japanese and one for foreign labor and two different types of contracts, pay systems, benefits, etc,..they want to maintain the status quo and divide the people not unite the people..its called we and them japan inc..

  • Too little, too slow, hopefully, not too late.

    Do they intend to accept immigrants? Or just needed more cheap labors badly? I will keep watching.


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