A New Framework for Japanfs Immigration Policies

By Hidenori Sakanaka,

Director of the Japan Immigration Policy Institute

Former head of the Tokyo Immigration Bureau

 (Revised version April 2007)




Deputy Editor The Japan Times Osaka bureau


Japanfs political leaders are (yet again) making international headlines over remarks regarding past crimes ranging from the Rape of Nanking to the forced recruitment of women to serve the Japanese military as sex slaves. But the really big Japan story today is not the heated arguments over history but the far less publicized, yet far more fundamental, argument about the future. Namely, what it will mean, in a half-century from now, to be "Japanese"?


Current predictions are that, without large-scale immigration and assuming the birthrate continues to remain low, Japanfs population will shrink from the present 127 million to 100 million by 2050, and to just 64 million by 2100. The number of those considered to be of working age (15-64) is also going to decline rapidly at a time when the number of elderly is expected to skyrocket. By 2050, more than a third of the population is expected to be over 65 years old, making Japan one of, if not the oldest, countries in the world.


For the past decade, the debate about how to adjust to an aging society with fewer children has largely been conducted behind closed doors, with different ministries putting out different proposals to keep Japan economically competitive while politically influential academics slay entire forests as they propose a variety of solutions. The endless sub-committees, blue ribbon panels, white papers, "wise-men" advisory boards, and special project teams have all gone out of their way to stress the importance of raising the retirement age and providing retraining opportunities for older people, ensuring that younger Japanese are integrated into the work-force as full-time employees not as "freeters", and making use of more robot technology to replace the ever-dwindling number of human workers.


Progressive members of the official debate have gone so far to suggest that Japan should be dragged, kicking and screaming if necessary, into the 21st century by enacting official policies to make it easier for women in the workforce. Calls for better economic opportunities for women can be found in many of the reports. However, the more conservative commentators merely suggest a "better environment for women", hinting that, while they are not against the idea of women working "certain" jobs, their primary responsibility should still be to stay at home and make babies.


And a good number have gone a step further: admitting Japan will not be able to survive without foreign labor. Various proposals, especially from Keidanren, the Justice Ministry, are now on the radar of most politicians and bureaucrats, and even the media. But given the politically explosive nature of the subject, few members of the official debate want to talk about what Japan might look like with millions and millions of foreigners.


A notable, and praiseworthy, exception is Hidenori Sakanaka. Two years ago, his book "Nyukan Senki" caused a sensation among those following the official debate over immigration. A former head of the Tokyo Immigration Bureau, Sakanaka was a consummate insider, an elite bureaucrat who has the ear of senior bureaucrats and business leaders, and the very few ruling party politicians, like the LDPfs Taro Kono, who are thinking seriously about the future of foreigners in Japan.


In his book, Sakanaka outlined a vision of Japan in 2050, and stated what was obvious but what nobody in power dared address: Japan fundamentally faces two choices, whether to remain a "big" country by bringing in millions of foreigners or become a "small" country and admit very few. Since the publication of "Nyukan Senki", Sakanaka has had a busy post-retirement career, traveling around the country, speaking to senior business leaders, academics, lawyers, government bureaucrats, the media, and, of course, NGOs about what he believes the Japanese government must do to ensure that, whichever path it chooses, itfs not only the right one but also the one that both protects foreigners and is practical for all concerned.


Now, for the first time, part of "Nyukan Senki" has been translated into English in the hopes that the outside world will better be able to follow, and perhaps even participate in the discussions, formal and informal, that are taking place in Japan. Readers lacking a deep familiarity with Japanese politics should understand that, within the official debate (a debate that human rights NGOs, liberal opposition politicians have little or no influence over and which foreigners are entirely absent) Sakanaka is far more concerned about the enactment of a humane but realistic immigration policy than many of the other politicians, bureaucrats, academics, and senior corporate leaders with similar levels of political clout.


In the end, Japanfs debate over its future must involve serious discussion and sound policy decisions regarding foreign immigrant labor. There is a tendency among far too many people with far too much to hide to claim that ",Japanfs debate on its immigration policies is a domestic, not an international issue.", This kind of denial, blindness and self-delusion is responsible for Japanfs inability to face up to its past, which is dangerous enough. But how more dangerous will it be in the future for not only Japan but all those from outside Japan who immigrate?


Happily, Sakanaka-san is determined to do his part to ensure that when politicians and bureaucrats speak of the need of a ",national debate",f or ``national consensusff on the issue of foreign labor, they will be forced to open their closed doors to as many voices, from within Japan and without, as possible.


(Note: The opinions contained within are those of Eric Johnston and do not necessarily reflect those of The Japan Times.)





A New Framework for Japanfs Immigration Policies


By Hidenori Sakanaka,

Director of the Japan Immigration Policy Institute

Former head of the Tokyo Immigration Bureau




Japan: A Magnet for Immigrants?

Utopia in 2050


In 2005, Japan entered an era of population decline. As Japan's population falls, many people say the country's future is bleak. There is widespread debate over how Japan should face the future but the mood is pessimistic. Dire predictions include Japan suffering a greater decline in economic growth rate and current account balance than any other developed country, the collapse of the pension and health insurance systems, wild expansions in government debt and dwindling consumption. A recently published International Monetary Fund (IMF) report prophesied that if Japan's population continues declining at its current rate, Japan will develop a current account deficit from around 2020 and from 2050 a serious labor shortage will arise such that Japan will not be able to sustain its current labor force even if the entire population between the ages of 15 and 64 were in employment.

I think it is unwise to spark fear with such predictions. Yet if birth rates continue to fall, Japan will inevitably witness a dramatic population decline unprecedented in human history. What lies ahead for Japan? Clearly the impending population decline calls for some radical changes. The Japanese people must not shirk from addressing this national issue.

During the Meiji Restoration at the end of Japan's feudal period, fierce debate on whether to exclude or welcome foreigners divided the population. As Japan now faces another period of sweeping social change, the country requires another deep and involved national debate.

How will Japanese livelihoods change? What road will Japan travel down and where will it arrive? In the following chapter, I will focus on immigration to suggest two roads Japan can take as its population declines. One of these roads leads to a "Big Japan" while one of them leads to a "Small Japan".

But before I do that, I would like to describe what Japan might look like in 2050 if the country significantly changes direction, admits 20 million immigrants, and drives forward towards the ideal of a multi-ethnic society. You may consider this picture to be a prologue for the debate in the next chapter or even as one kind of utopian vision.


In 2050, the Immigration Ministry plays an important role in facilitating the smooth acceptance of a large number of immigrants into Japanese society. The ministry's brief is to draw up policies for the acceptance of overseas immigrants, promote the social integration of minority groups and prevent ethnic discrimination. So let's begin our story.




An Ordinary Family


It's May 15, 2050. The world's population has reached 8.9 billion. India overtook China to become the world's most populous country in 2035 and is now home to 1.53 billion people. China follows with 1.40 billion people and the United States, population 400 million, is in third place. Japan's population stands at 120 million, 20 million of whom are immigrants, including those with Japanese citizenship. This is because since 2010, the Immigration Ministry has allowed an annual average of around 500,000 foreigners into the country.

Today, I'm going to call on the house of Mr. Akira Sato, who lives in Tokyo with his wife and three children.


Here are the Sato family, who are all Japanese citizens.

Akira Sato, 48 (Native Japanese, male, supermarket manager).

Nancy Sato, 43 (nee Domingo, second-generation Filipina-Japanese, former nurse)

Aki Sato, 20 (female, second-year student at a private university in Tokyo)

Ryohei Sato, 18 (male, third year student at a local public high school)

Masahira Sato, 15 (male, second-year student at an international junior high school)


The family live in a five-room detached house in Shin Tama New Town (population 305,000) on the outskirts of Tokyo. The town is 35 minutes by train from the center of the city and is home to 100,000 immigrants and their families. Ethnic Filipinos are the largest single group numbering 30,000. Nancy's parents also live in the town. Akira's parents are alive and well in Kyoto.


Paternal grandfather: Kouhei Sato, 80 (native Japanese, male, former university professor, expert in immigration issues)

Paternal grandmother: Mizue Sato, 78 (native Japanese, female, housewife)

Maternal grandfather: Roland Domingo,75 (first generation Filipino-Japanese, former engineer)

Maternal grandmother: Rosalina Endeles Domingo, 73 (first generation Filipina-Japanese, former care worker)


One Sunday


It's the morning of Sunday May 15, 2050. The five members of the family are eating breakfast. As always, it's Japanese-style, but the rice is healthy whole grain. The rest of the menu is miso soup, fried fish, natto and pickles.

Nancy and the three children are also very fond of Japanese food and quite happy to have natto and fried fish for breakfast. As Nancy was born and brought up in Japan, she makes a good Japanese meal. Japanese is of course her native language.

The TV is on. The newscaster, a Filipina-Japanese woman, is explaining the events of the last week. The Immigration Ministry's Ethnic Discrimination Monitoring Committee is investigating a taxi firm owned by a native Japanese for suspected discrimination against a Japanese citizen of Indonesian origin.

Recently, discrimination incidents are frequent, and when no quick solution is found the Racial Dispute Arbitration Committee steps in to mediate. If the mediation fails to produce results, the case goes before the Racial Dispute Court.

It's 10 o'clock in the morning. Nancy sets out to a nearby Catholic Church. Akira and the three children remain at home.

12 o'clock. The family is joined by Nancy's parents Roland and Rosalina for lunch at a restaurant in the town's Filipino district.

4o'clock in the afternoon. The family all jump into Akira's four-wheel-drive to go watch a soccer match at the International Stadium in Yokohama. The popularity of pro-soccer has surpassed that of baseball. All of Japan's major cities have a professional soccer team, and the majority of players on each team are from ethnic minorities. The popularity of soccer is driven by new immigrants, who fervently support teams with many players of their own ethnicity. Crowd violence is not unknown.

Today's match is the championship decider between the Chinatown Dragons of Yokohama, who have a large number of ethnic Chinese players on the team, and the Amazon Fighters who are based in Toyota City and field a large number of ethnic Brazilian players. The atmosphere is charged. Ethnic Chinese and Brazilian supporters from across Japan are packing the stands, making themselves heard long before the kick-off. There is a small section of native Japanese supporters watching quietly from one corner of the stand.

The Amazon Fighters win the match. The fans spill out celebrating into the streets and it takes the riot police to restore order.

It's 9 o'clock at night, and the family are back at home watching television. A Brazilian-Japanese woman is presenting the program. Today's guests are an 18-year Filipina-Japanese singer and a popular Indonesian-Japanese male singer. Ryohei and Masahira are both crazy about the Filipina-Japanese singer, who is one of the country's most popular performing artists and well known for her musicality.


Street Scenes


In Japan in 2050, signposts and shop signs are displayed in both English and Japanese. Many taxi drivers are immigrants from Vietnam and Indonesia. Restaurant workers are principally of Thai and Filipino extraction, while many of the guardsmen at the city's larger buildings are from Indian families. The majority of policemen are still native Japanese, followed closely by ethnic Chinese. The first job immigrants take upon arriving in Japan is often decided by their ethnic group. In hospitals there are many doctors and nurses from outside Japan. Many doctors speak English or Tagalog. Some of the nurses are native Japanese but the majority are originally from the Philippines. The Filipina-Japanese nurses are popular for their cheerful disposition and their motherly attitude towards their patients.

Old people's homes in grand buildings are common across the country, and the vast majority of care staff are ethnic Filipina women. The elderly residents are delighted to receive such warm care.

Ever since the Japanese government signed an agreement with the Philippine government in 2006 to admit nurses and caregivers, the number of new arrivals has been steadily rising. There are now some 2 million people originally from the Philippines working as nurses and caregivers throughout Japan.


Philippine Town


On the south side of Shin Tama New Town is an enormous housing estate built in the late 1980s by the Tokyo Metropolitan government and the Housing and Urban Development Corporation.

When it was first constructed, most of the housing estate residents were native Japanese. But as the native Japanese population fell, many Filipinos moved in including those married to Japanese nationals and those working as nurses or caregivers. Before long, Filipinos living across the Kanto Region began to congregate on the estate leading to the birth of a Filipino town 30,000 strong.

The current town now includes schools, hospitals, banks, churches, theaters, restaurants and supermarkets, providing residents with a living environment just like that of Manila. In fact, the estate is now known as Little Manila. Conversations heard on the street are in English and Tagalog, as are the prominent shop signs.

Each block on the state has its own well-organized residents association. The residents' association federation encompasses all 30,000 residents, and its chairman, who is elected by a universal vote, wields real power. In Little Manila, incidents and crimes are extremely rare. A criminologist who analyzed the area concluded that the spiritual support provided to the Filipino residents by the three local Catholic Churches ensured the maintenance of public order. The Filipino residents have a strong sense of community and sufficient political power to have secured the election of one Diet member, two Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly members and five members of the local municipal assembly.


Reinvigoration of the Agricultural Belt


Akira's food company is in the centre of Little Manila and sells Philippine cooking ingredients to a largely Filipino clientele.

Twice a week, Akira journeys out to the farming belt to procure vegetables, fruit and other produce. He buys the goods not from a farm, but from a food production company.

In 2050, food production in rural areas is generally the preserve of such firms. Backed by capital from the restaurant industry and trading companies, they employ foreign laborers and are run like businesses rather than traditional farms. Farmers who had kept their ancestral lands for generations have sold their holdings and instead work at the food production companies.

In 2015, dramatic falls in population brought agricultural society to the brink of collapse. In response, the Japanese government began encouraging corporations to manage farmland using immigrant labor. The new policy transformed Japan's rural areas. Before then, Japan's long-standing rural assets, namely its rice fields and forests, had been falling into neglect. But the new influx of labor stemmed the decline, making it possible once again to secure food and other resources. Japan's crop self-sufficiency ratio, which was a mere 25% at the start of the 21st century, soon rebounded to 50%. 1.5 million immigrants are now working in the agriculture industry. People originally from China, Vietnam, Bangladesh and Thailand are most numerous. Immigrant workers now support the fabric of the rural economy. Although Japanese traditional culture retains a strong influence over rural society, the new immigrants have fitted right in. They participate actively in traditional events and have built good relationships with the native Japanese locals.

With the addition of workers from overseas, the rural population began to rise once again, and Japan's agricultural heartlands regained their old vitality.


IT industry


The number of ethnic Chinese and ethnic Indians working in various Japanese industries each tops 4 million, and many are in prominent positions as pioneering entrepreneurs in the IT industry. Ethnic Chinese and ethnic Indians also account for the largest proportion of the engineers who support the industry's success.

The managerial skill of the entrepreneurs and the technical expertise of the engineers is one of the major reasons why Japan's IT industry maintains a strong competitive position in the global market.

Major corporations, such as electronic industry stalwarts Sony and Panasonic, have already become truly international. It is now common practice to have two separate headquarters, one in Japan and one overseas in a country such as the United States. Of course, people from many different countries also work in the Tokyo head offices, and a true meritocracy, irrespective of nationality or race, is firmly established. The president of Sony is an American.

Two respected economists are expounding their own theories during a televised debate.

"For Japanese companies in the era of globalization, corporate performance varies significantly depending on the company's skill in leveraging the talents of its foreign employees. All companies currently achieving improved performance employ people from a variety of different nations and races. They all promote mutual encouragement, competition and the sharing of expertise. "


Political Debate


It's 10 o'clock in the morning on a Sunday in July. Akira, together with his daughter Aki, is watching a political debate show on the television. The general election, which comes round once every four years, is scheduled for the following Sunday.

The leaders of each political party are appearing on the show, expressing competing opinions over major political issues. In recent elections, the issue of immigration has been the largest single bone of contention.

There is much public interest over whether the government should continue or abandon its policy of accepting immigrants to compensate for the decline in native Japanese.

The reason for the high level of public interest is twofold. Not only does the issue of immigration encompass the merits or otherwise of maintaining Japan's current population at 120 million in the face of current worldwide energy and food shortages, but it also affects the ultimate ratio of native Japanese to other ethnic groups, a ratio that shapes the fundamental nature of Japanese society.

The leader of the ruling Liberal Party believes the acceptance of immigrants should continue, and is busy justifying current government policy.

"How far could our economy have developed without the assistance of 20 million people from overseas? Mass immigration has enabled us to build a wealthy society with high-levels of social welfare. Although we must deal with law and order issues such as crimes committed by immigrants, the level of such crimes is far, far below that of Europe and North America. In general, relations between native Japanese and our newer residents are good. Our party is determined to keep the door open to new immigrants and build for Japan a dynamic society."

The leader of the opposition Reform Party objects, saying that Japan should not accept any more people from overseas.

"As we have let in 20 million immigrants, our nation's population remains at 120 million no matter how many years pass. Therefore we are no closer to solving our overcrowding problems. The natural environment is suffering more and more. Overcrowding exacerbates our energy and food self-sufficiency problems. If a major earthquake or some other large disaster were to occur while Japan is still so densely populated, the damage would be immeasurable. An even bigger problem is that if we carry on compensating for the decline in Japanese by letting in foreigners, within 50 years the number of foreigners may even exceed the number of Japanese. Is it right for Japanese to become a minority in their own country?"

The leaders of various parties backed by minority immigrant groups expressed thanks for the warm welcome they had received in Japan but opposed the acceptance of more immigrants on the grounds that the unemployment rate for immigrant workers was already higher than for native Japanese. After listening to each party put forward their immigration policy, Akira decides to vote for the Reform Party while Aki says she will back the Liberal Party.


General Election


On election day, Akira, Nancy and Aki, the only one of the three children eligible to vote, head down to the polling booth. Many candidates of various ethnicities are standing for office. Some parties appear to be for specific ethnic groups, and emphasize the need to protect immigrant rights.

The current Prime Minister is native Japanese. Five members of his cabinet are of immigrant origin. There is one minister from each of Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, Filipino and South Korean communities.

Akira votes for the candidate from the Reform Party, the largest opposition party. Nancy votes for an ethnic Filipino candidate. Aki votes for the ruling Liberal Party contender.

Up until now, the two major parties, the Liberal Party and the Reform Party, both of which draw their membership largely from native Japanese, have passed the reins of power backwards and forwards between themselves. But in the current election, opinion polls suggest that neither party will find it easy to secure a majority, and smaller parties representing Chinese-Japanese, Indian-Japanese and Korean-Japanese voters may well end up holding the casting vote.


Packed Trains


In 2060, and the Diet and various government organs are scheduled to move to the Northern Kanto region, following a decision to transfer the capital that finally ended nearly 70 years of debate. However, most immigrants live in or near Tokyo and the gravitation of the population towards the city shows no sign of abating.

Aki studies at university in the heart of Tokyo. On days when she has early morning lectures, she has to board a train with barely room to stand. In the packed rush-hour carriages, people from the Asian continent, Africa, Latin America, Europe and North America all jostle for elbow room. The body odors of the various passengers mingle in the carriage air creating a unique brew.

When Aki first started to ride the train she felt a little uncomfortable, but now she has learned to take it in her stride as a sign that she lives right in the middle of a multi-ethnic community.




Aki is a second-year university student. Young people from across the globe study at the campus. Around 20 percent of the student body is made up of second and third-generation immigrants who were born in Japan. There are also many overseas students who have traveled to Japan to study. 70% of classes are conducted in Japanese with the remainder in English. Ethnic minorities account for around 30% of the teaching staff.

The university puts a lot of effort into multicultural education. Students with roots in other countries can learn about that country's language and history at the University's regional research centre.

Aki is a member of the "Multi-ethnic nation comparative research group". The group researches government policies for multi-ethnic assimilation in countries such as United States, Canada and Australia that preceded Japan in accepting significant numbers of immigrants. Aki's boyfriend is a third-generation Brazilian-Japanese man she met through the research group. They began seeing each other after discovering they have a lot in common due to their similar circumstances.


Inter-ethnic Marriage Boom


Today, all the newspapers are reporting on the publication of new marriage statistics. The figures show a decline in marriages between people of the same ethnic group and an increase in inter-ethnic marriage.

40% of native Japanese are married to someone from another ethnic group. Marriages among different immigrant groups are also increasing. 30% of the minority population is married to someone from another minority. A government spokesman is quoted as saying "We are witnessing a boom in inter-ethnic marriage". In a newspaper interview, a sociologist says "Human beings are naturally drawn towards the unknown, we have a natural curiosity about people who differ from us. In Japan today, young people of all backgrounds and ethnicities seem to be particularly interested in marrying outside their ethnic group. Inter-ethnic marriages are likely to continue increasing."

The growing number of inter-ethnic marriages has in turn led to a rapid increase in the number of multicultural elementary school students who can speak two or more languages.


Party Time


One evening in late December, a combined Christmas party and year-end party is in full swing at the Civic Hall in the centre of Shin Tama New Town. It's a massive event attended by 5000 people. Although many participants are Christians, such as residents originally from the Philippines and Brazil, the majority of attendees are native Japanese people with no links to Christianity. Other partygoers represent a variety of religions including Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus from various nations. Although nominally a Christmas party, the occasion is really an annual opportunity for residents of all ethnic groups to get to know each other better in a festival atmosphere.

The party is a favorite year-end event for the Sato family, and they always attend together. Although there is delicious cuisine on offer from many different countries, the main appeal of the event is a chance to catch up with old friends for Akira and Nancy, and the chance to meet new friends for their three children.

Inside the hall, the partygoers enjoy a wide range of dishes including food from Japan, China, India and Brazil. And of course, there are alcoholic drinks from across the globe.

The venue features a big stage for the guests to perform traditional songs and dances from various nations. There is also a specially invited performer, an Indonesia-Japanese male singer who currently enjoys widespread popularity. As the party reaches its peak, men and women take to the dance floor wearing traditional costumes in a rainbow of colors. With over 1000 people on their feet, including numerous inter-ethnic couples, the dance floor is quite a spectacle. Cultures from around the globe mingle together - it is a time of happiness and celebration.

Away from the dance floor, many people are deep in conversation. Some people are even discussing weighty topics like the nature of Japanese society and multicultural living. It seems they have plenty to talk about. Most conversations are in Japanese but here and there one hears snippets of English.

The dancing and the chatting go on long into the night.


50 Years of Immigration


It is New Year's Eve, and 2050 is nearly at an end. Akira's parents Kouhei and Mizue are making one of their infrequent visits from Kyoto to Shin Tama New Town. For the past 10 years, it has been a family tradition for them to spend New Year with their eldest son and his family. Kouhei, a former university professor, is renowned as an authority on Japanese immigration issues. Although he is quietly enjoying retirement, he is continuing to make leisurely progress on his life's work "50 Years of Immigration to Japan."

The family has just finished eating together and are now deep in conversation. The topic naturally moves on to the question of immigration. Akira finds himself asking the questions and Kouhei is only too pleased to give his answers. Kouhei gradually becomes increasingly animated and starts to present his thoughts on the topic in depth.


Akira: Do you think Japan was right to let in 20 million immigrants over the past 40 years?

Kouhei: Looking back, I think that although the last 40 years of immigration policy has been a continual process of trial and error, it has generally been a success. Japan has had far less social trouble than other countries in Europe and North America that have taken in a large number of immigrants, so we can probably say that Japan's own policies were the right ones.

Akira: Why do you think Japan has succeeded?

Kouhei: Well, the Japanese population started shrinking in 2005. At that time, projections showed it was highly likely the population would fall below 100 million by 2050 and half to 64 million by 2100. Politicians, bureaucrats, economists and academics became very worried about the impending population decline and started a thorough debate about what Japan should do to address the situation.

Akira: What sort of issues did they discuss?

Kouhei: The debate revolved around immigration, and centered on the two basic alternatives facing Japan. In other words, should the country except the natural population decline and the emergence of a "Small Japan", or should the country replace the declining population with immigrants to maintain its status as an economic power and remain as "Big Japan"? At the time, the government realized that this was an extremely important issue that would affect the next 100 years of Japanese history, so the Cabinet gathered leading experts from various fields to perform a comparative analysis from all possible angles. It was this meeting of great minds that produced the historic policy advisory "Draft Proposals for the Acceptance of Overseas Immigrants". The proposals were written over five years. The creation of the draft was treated like an important state project, on a par with the writing of the constitution. The draft was put before the electorate in a referendum and a majority voted their agreement.

The ultimate result of this is very well known. The country decided to make the necessary preparations and then begin the organized acceptance of immigrants to reverse the population decline. In other words, the Japanese people chose "Big Japan".

Once the public debate was resolved, the government took action, establishing the "Immigration Agency" to take responsibility for handling immigration issues. The government also implemented standards for an open, fair and transparent immigration policy, established a new legal framework to ensure that the children of permanent residents automatically gained Japanese citizenship, promoted multicultural education and set up an organization to monitor racial discrimination. Then, in 2010, after laying the necessary groundwork, the mass acceptance of immigrants finally got underway.

Akira: How did the influx of immigrants change Japan?

Kouhei: Firstly, it is extremely important that the Japanese people took an active decision to seek the assistance of immigrants in coping with the population decline. That's to say, Japan's 100-year plan was based on a public consensus. People at the time understood that if they wanted to welcome a large number of immigrants to help Japan overcome its population crisis, they would need to create a society that met the aspirations of prospective immigrants - they would need to encourage people from across the world to come here. Since then, the native Japanese people have kept their promise to live together with people of different races and different cultures. They struggled to create an open, fair society where all people have equality of opportunity, are judged on their merits and can rise in social status irrespective of their nationality or ethnicity.

The realization of a Japanese-Style Multi-ethnic Society became a central feature of government policy. And so today, a variety of different peoples, centered around the majority native Japanese, are working towards the achievement of that goal. That's why Japan is now a magnet for people all across the world.

Of course, we have yet to achieve a true multi-ethnic society. It may never be achieved. But it is important that all Japanese citizens come together and fight to reach that ideal.

In Japan, it has long been the tradition the guests should be welcomed with the same generosity with which one welcomes the gods. As long as Japanese citizens remember that tradition, Japan will certainly succeed in building the world's leading 21st-century multi-ethnic society.

Akira: The world's population is closing in on 9 billion. Global problems involving resources and environment are steadily growing worse and the human race may struggle to survive. Shouldn't we perhaps accept population decline and aim for a "Small Japan"?

Kouhei: As problems caused by population growth, such as starvation, resource depletion and environmental destruction - problems entwined with the fate of the human race - become increasingly more serious, we can perhaps say Japan can no longer justify compensating for its population decline with new immigrants in order to maintain economic growth. Perhaps Japanese citizens in the second half of the 21st century should accept population decline and a smaller scale society and work to build a multicultural society based on Japan's current ethnic composition.


Big country or small country? The choice facing Japan

Japan as a model for the world


In 2005, Japan entered an era of population decline. The population began to fall off rapidly after reaching a peak of 128 million in 2004. If the current low birthrate continues, estimates suggest Japan's population will drop below 90 million people within 50 years and fall by two-thirds to 40 million within 100 years (National Institute of Population and Social Security Research "Population Projections for Japan", December 2006.) A dramatically declining population will undoubtedly have an immeasurable impact on all aspects of the nation and society.

At the start of the 21st century, as Japan moves from an era of population increase to population decrease, radical systematic reform is required, reform on a scale equivalent to the Meiji Restoration or the massive changes that swept Japan after the Second World War. The era of population decline requires the rebirth of a "New Japan", built on a comprehensive revision of the Japanese lifestyle, Japan's ethnic makeup, and Japan's social and economic systems.

The country's population trends are determined by births, deaths and international migration. In a country where the number of deaths exceeds the number of births and the population is naturally declining, the role of the immigration authorities, who control international population movements, takes on extreme importance. Policies on the acceptance of immigrants affect the country's population dynamics and social makeup. Debate should naturally turn to the use of immigration policy as a powerful means of stemming population decline.

As long as there are large international differences in population distribution and economic development, the movement of people from overpopulated developing countries to sparsely populated wealthy countries will continue.

As of 2005, only 1.2 billion of the world's 6.5 billion people reside in developed countries with the remainder living in developing nations. The population of developing nations also continues to increase. On the other hand, growth rates in developed countries are falling, and in the near future the population of the developed world as a whole is certain to begin falling (United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, World Population Prospects: the 2004 Revision.)

During the 21st century, the world's population is set to increase explosively and draw ever closer to the landmark figure of 10 billion. As population problems and problems between the north and south grow increasingly serious, mass population movements from the developing world to the developed world are widely expected to occur. Competition between developed countries for personnel on the international labor market will grow ever fiercer as developed countries seek to maintain their nationhood and their economy in the face of population decline.

However, such developments do not imply the arrival of an age in which people can move freely across international borders to live in any country they please. In the 21st century, the fundamental international order will continue to consist of an alliance of sovereign states, each based on the essential elements of "territory" and "citizenship". The barriers of international frontiers and citizenship will not disappear. International frontiers will continue to be the basic principle restricting free international migration. Nation states will continue to employ systems that divide people into citizens and foreigners and treat them accordingly.

Immigration authorities in countries around the world are likely to consider their primary mission to be the protection of the national lifestyle and social order through the restriction of population movements from overseas, and therefore keep foreigners wishing to enter the country under strict immigration control.

Some countries in Europe are already experiencing problems of population decline, but no country in the world has ever experienced such dramatic change or serious problems as those which await Japan. There are no precedents for Japan to look to. Therefore, Japan will have to take the lead in assessing how to deal with a declining population and show to the world its own vision for the future. I hope that the measures Japan decides to put into place will serve as a good template for other countries in the future.

How should Japan's respond to population decline? What migration policies should the country adopt? The time has surely come for Japanese citizens to make a decision on this important issue which will affect the future of the country over the next century. In putting these issues on the table, my intention is to spark a national debate.


Two Scenarios


From the standpoint of accepting foreign immigrants, one can examine how Japan could address population decline by considering the following two extreme options. One option is to go along completely with the natural population decline and create a "Small Japan". The other option is to compensate for the natural population decrease by accepting immigrants and maintaining Japan's current position as an economic powerhouse or "Big Japan". Put another way, the former requires maintaining the current status quo (an almost ethnically homogenous nation) in which native Japanese account for the vast majority of the population. The latter option requires changing the composition of Japan's population through accelerated growth in the proportion of people who are not ethnically Japanese. Whichever option is chosen, Japanese citizens living through the process of natural population decline will have to overcome difficult obstacles.


A "Small Japan" would aim to accept the natural population decline and build a laid-back society consistent with a reduced population. If the population fell to 80 million, Japanese society would adapt accordingly. An essential part of this scenario is the use of strict immigration policies to limit population movements into Japan.

Population is a core element of the economy and society. If a population continues to fall, there is a high chance of economic depression and social stagnation. Therefore, choosing such a scenario requires an awareness of these possible outcomes. It represents the acceptance of natural population decline as an inevitable social phenomenon resulting from the entry of Japanese society into a stage of maturity. It requires all aspects of society, ranging from citizen's livelihoods and lifestyle patterns to social systems and the composition of industry, to begin operating on a premise of population decline as opposed to population increase.

Under this scenario, native Japanese people would continue to play all the major roles involved in running the economy and society without accepting assistance from immigrants. Immigration controls would be tightened. In some cases, the government could adopt immigration policies that basically barred entry to foreign laborers and other immigrants.

Whether the transition to "Small Japan" is possible depends on whether the immigration and foreigners seeking to work in Japan can be precisely controlled. Even if the native Japanese population falls, "Small Japan" would not be possible if the foreign population swells to make up the numbers. As the population of the developing world continues to rise and the desire of developing world workers to live and earn in the developed world grows steadily stronger, Japan will have to establish immigration controls strong enough to withstand the pressure of migratory forces if Japan alone wishes to respond to its natural population decrease by creating a more "compact society".

Starting with China, there are many developing countries with huge populations and outward migratory pressure in the region surrounding Japan. Given this international environment, Japan will not be able to prevent a mass population influx without building stronger walls around its borders.

Citizens living in a society with a continually shrinking population will not only have to change their lifestyles but will also have to take on greater responsibility. They will have to take an outlook on life molded by an expanding society and modify it to fit a contracting society. They will have to live by a new philosophy appropriate to the new social milieu.

For example, citizens of "Small Japan" will need to move from a lifestyle that celebrates richness to one that celebrates simplicity. As the country tries to maintain its social welfare system in the face of a falling birthrate and rising elderly population, they will have to bear higher tax levels and to accept lower levels of pension and other benefit payments.

If the Japanese people keep rigidly to the basic stance outlined above, we can imagine how in the latter half of the 21st century Japan may become a mature society with a moderate-sized population living a comfortable, relaxed lifestyle in a rich natural and social environment.

It is quite possible that in a slow-paced, peaceful society, more people may want to have a large family and the population may bottom out and start to rise once again.

In the 21st century, problems which are rooted in population growth and which affect the future of the human race, such as starvation, resource depletion and environmental destruction, are expected to grow more serious. Japan's affirmation of population decline and attempts to build a more compact society may well be welcomed by the international community as a pioneering, revolutionary step towards a future vision of society.


The "Big Japan" policy would aim to compensate for the natural decline in the Japanese population with a mass influx of immigrants and to support a "dynamic Japan" that maintained economic growth. By taking in an appropriate number of immigrants to offset the decline in native Japanese, Japan would maintain its position as the world's second-largest economy and keep its current standard of living. Whether or not such a policy could succeed will depend on how far Japan could develop a sense of openness towards the new arrivals.

If this path is chosen, Japan's economy and society will be run with the assistance of many foreigners. The Japanese people's tendency to embrace growth and the fundamentals of the Japanese economy would not change. Japan would maintain a basic framework under which social systems and the structure of industry assumed growth.

To achieve "Big Japan", the country will need to accept over 20 million immigrants during the next 50 years. This would represent an unprecedented influx of people from other ethnic groups. Japan would become a multi-ethnic society composed of native Japanese whose ancestors have long lived in these islands together with new immigrants from all corners of the globe.

Before welcoming such an unprecedented number of immigrants, Japan would first have to build a national consensus that those immigrants should be welcomed as "friends". Then Japan would have to transform itself into a land of opportunity, so that people from across the globe would actively want to come here. In other words, Japan would have to build an "open, fair society" which guaranteed all people equal opportunity, judged people on their merits, and allowed everyone to improve their social status irrespective of their origin or ethnicity. At the same time, Japan would also need to build a "multi-ethnic society" which respected a variety of different values and cultures.

If Japan did not transform itself into a country immigrants found appealing, it would be unable to attract sufficient numbers of talented people in the worldwide battle for personnel.

Japan's criteria for accepting new arrivals and its immigration procedures would have to be open, transparent and fair if immigration authorities are to appropriately process vast numbers of immigration applications and allow a variety of personnel from around the world into the country. A major issue would be how to decide on the criteria for accepting immigrants. The government will have to address the issue carefully after consulting experts from various disciplines.

The state's basic attitude to the treatment of foreigners would of course be called into question. Under Japan's current policies, which generally view foreigners as a target for control and regulation, Japan will not be able to make the leap and develop into a tolerant multi-ethnic society.

The government would have to emphasize deeper integration between Japanese and other nationalities and transform governmental administration so that it considers the position of immigrants, who are a minority in society. This must be done from a basic position of guaranteeing immigrants and ethnic minorities the same rights as native Japanese. The smooth integration into society of foreigners allowed into the country should be placed at the centre of government policy, with a particular emphasis on Japanese language education and employment assistance. It would also essential for the government establish a new system that eases the passage to citizenship, so the immigrants accepted into the country can become Japanese citizens as soon as possible.

If Japan were to become a multi-ethnic society, and these islands became home to a variety of ethnic groups other than native Japanese, problems occurring as a result of differences in ethnicity, culture and religion would be impossible to avoid. The country would face the difficult issue of how to bring the various ethnic groups together and maintain public order under the single nation state of Japan.

In a multi-ethnic Japan, not only would the government have to mediate the conflicting interests of different groups and try to avoid provoking inter-ethnic conflict, it would also take on the heavy responsibility of establishing principles to promote social integration, binding the various ethnic groups together as Japanese citizens.

To responsibly tackle the various issues discussed above relating to immigrants and ethnic minorities, the state would have to establish a national body (Immigration Agency) with a mandate to plan and implement comprehensive policies for the treatment of immigrants, promote the social integration of ethnic minorities, and monitor and prevent ethnic discrimination.

The government would also have to accept large-scale expenditure to maintain the integration of its multi-ethnic citizenry.

We should note that even if Japan managed to resolve its immediate problem of population decline through the acceptance of immigrants, Japan would, in the not too distant future, come up against various obstacles including the social burden of large-scale inward migration, environmental problems and energy problems, and the economic growth rate would likely begin to lag.


Small Japan


If we assess the prospects for Japan's shrinking society from the perspective of Japan's history and the current status quo, it seems clear that of the two scenarios I have outlined Small Japan represents the more easily attainable goal.

Japanese society currently lacks the capacity to accept 400,000 immigrants a year.

It is perhaps unrealistic to expect the native Japanese people to be so magnanimous when they have almost no experience of accepting and living together with people from other countries. A clear historical example of this is the 265 years during the Edo Period in which Japan was shut off from the outside world.

If that is the case, then Japan will have no choice but to follow the basic path towards a more compact society as its population falls significantly.

When we say "compact society" we should of course be aware that even if Japan's population shrinks by 30 million to approximately 100 million people over the next 50 years, Japan would still be a very populous country with far more people than France (60 million) or Germany (83 million).

We should also consider that Japan currently has, like certain other countries in Asia, an extremely high, perhaps excessive, population density. Perhaps we should look squarely at our overpopulated society and its negative consequences such as environmental destruction, deterioration in living quality, and the psychological damage that comes from over-competition.

If we wish to leave a beautiful natural environment and stable society for the Japanese citizens of 50 or 100 years hence, a decline in population over at least the first half of the 21st century may be desirable. A beautiful country with a small population, perhaps not unlike New Zealand, is a legitimate aim.

Japanese citizens could discover meaning in a declining population that provides them with a more relaxed pace of life and social stability. Japan could modify its economic and social systems to accommodate a smaller population. This scenario requires the maintenance of strict policies to prevent immigration. If public consensus on this issue could be achieved, such a policy could be considered an attempt to realize a utopian society, consistent with the global trend of environmental conservation.

However, creating "Small Japan" requires the resolution of various difficult issues.

As stated above, the successful formation of a "Small Japan" depends on whether or not Japan can reliably prevent the arrival of immigrants. Having specialized in immigration issues, I am most concerned about the force of external migratory pressure within neighboring countries as their populations expand and their economies grow. China in particular, which with its huge population stands out among the rapidly growing economies of the 21st century, will have an immense impact on Japanese immigration control.

Even if the immigration authorities try to protect Japan's borders with maximum security, will their barriers withstand the pressure of massive population movement? Isn't it possible that strict immigration controls could end up encouraging a proliferation of sophisticated and devious smuggling techniques?

If the walls of Fortress Japan risk being swamped by waves of chaotic, illegal immigration, then the idea of opening up the country's gates in a limited and controlled fashion may start to look more attractive.

If Japan decides to adopt a shrinking society at its basic policy, the country will also have to address the serious issue of personnel shortfalls in key industries and core societal systems that fail to deal with rapid population change.

An immediate requirement would be the maximization of available labor through the reorganization of Japanese industry to redistribute personnel and achieve a structure appropriate for a shrinking society. Urgent action would also be required to expand employment opportunities for elderly people and women. If all of these efforts fail to secure the required labor, then the government could choose to make exceptions to the strict immigration policies of "Small Japan" and permit the entry of the minimum number of immigrants required to maintain Japan's basic infrastructure.

For example, as Japan's birthrate falls and the proportion of elderly people continues to rise, an absolute shortage in the number of care-givers for the elderly is highly likely.

As the productive labor force shrinks, employing large numbers of young people in the care-giving professions may be problematic from the standpoint of personnel distribution across society as a whole. Care-giving cannot simply be farmed out to robots. A dearth of native Japanese caregivers could push public opinion towards support for foreign caregivers, even though caring for the elderly would be a difficult job for someone without the deep understanding of Japanese culture.

Another issue with the "Small Japan" policy is the fate of Japan's countryside assets, its rice fields and its forests, which risk dilapidation due to a serious shortage of young people ready to take over agriculture and forestry work from their parents. The government will not be able to ignore the potential disappearance of farming and mountain communities as the population rapidly drops.

Faced not only with the need to maintain food supply and natural resources, but also with the need to preserve the land, the environment and the sustainability of rural society, the Japanese people may come to support the acceptance of immigrant workers in the agriculture and forestry industries.

The foreigners accepted into Japan as an emergency measure to address population decline should be recognized as permanent immigrants not simply temporary economic migrants. This is because granting new arrivals legal protection and treatment consummate with their status as potential Japanese citizens is a better way of encouraging talented personnel to remain in Japan.

Under such circumstances, Japan should avoid immigration policies that favor a particular country or ethnic group. Accepting people of various ethnicities from countries all over the world will not only contribute to Japan's national security, but will also make it comparatively easy to achieve an integrated multi-ethnic citizenry.

I consider the biggest risk in pursuing the "Small Japan" policy to be the spread of government inaction and the postponement of reform. Under a national policy of leaving the population to its natural decline, we are unlikely to witness the birth of reform-minded politicians capable of planning for Japan's long-term future. Before too long, Japan may begin sliding rapidly backwards as problems and contradictions left unresolved begin to take hold of the country.


Big Japan


Recently many people in Japanese industry have begun to advocate the acceptance of large numbers of overseas immigrants to address the labor shortfalls, consumer market shrinkage and pensions funding problems expected in the era of population decline.

But can the Japanese people, who have little experience of living together with those of different ethnicity, welcome large numbers of immigrants without adequate mental and physical preparation?

If the public's current level of cross-cultural understanding and society's readiness to accept people from overseas remains unchanged, the public may be unable to deal with the large number of people from different cultures that a massive increase in immigration would bring. This may lead to hostility. Labor market competition and cultural friction could provoke violence between native Japanese groups and immigrant groups leading to public calls for immigrant repatriation. If such a situation were to arise, deep cracks would appear in the relationship between native Japanese and other ethnic groups, leaving long-term resentment that would be very difficult to overcome.

As we can see from the regional conflicts throughout the world that are rooted in ethnic issues, the road to peaceful coexistence between different ethnic groups is not easy. Mutual understanding and integration can only be achieved with great effort.

If Japan decides to overcome population decline with the help of foreign immigrants, then immigrants should be accepted gradually, with careful consideration given to the extent of integration between the majority and minority populations.

Generally speaking, citizens without pride in their own ethnic group and culture cannot be tolerant towards other ethnic groups, nor can they win their respect. If native Japanese are to build good relationships with people from other countries, they must be prepared to enter into such relationships with an awareness and sense of pride in their own ethnicity.

If Japan is to accept a significant number of immigrants, then native Japanese people must be prepared to build a society in which native Japanese people and other ethnic groups live together with mutual respect, in other words a society of "multi-ethnic coexistence".

In such a society, not only will native Japanese people be required to develop an awareness of their own ethnic identity, but they will have to treat all other ethnic groups, including other Asian ethnic groups, as equal.

Giving Japan's history as an island populated by people with a shared culture and close outlook, developing close personal relationships with people of different cultures will not be easy.

The first steps will need to be made by changing the nature of Japanese society from a society that values homogeneity and is wary of individualism to a society that respects and embraces individual differences. In addition, Japan will have to implement nationwide developmental and educational activities in the home, in schools, in workplaces and in regional society to increase the number of Japanese people with a balanced view of immigrants. Looking the current circumstances of immigrants in Japan, for example at the way corporations employ foreign workers, it is clear that new arrivals are not granted the same treatment as native Japanese and little attempt is made to evaluate and leverage their talents and sensibilities.

The majority of immigrant workers are simply being used as a source of cheap labor. Under these circumstances, Japanese corporations will not be able to recruit talented international workers who can really help their business. Talented personnel will steer well clear of companies with such discriminatory structures.

High-quality overseas personnel cannot be expected to come to Japan in the current climate. To attract overseas personnel, Japan must develop a corporate culture that confers status and salary based on ability, irrespective of nationality or ethnicity. Japan must actively try to capture and use overseas talent.

If the native Japanese population does not appear to be making the effort to live together with people of different ethnicities and cultures and build a society without prejudice or discrimination towards immigrants, then Japan will have to abandon hope of using foreign assistance to maintain economic growth and high-quality social welfare. The country will have no choice but to go straight down the road to "Small Japan" in accordance with the population decline.

One major advantage of aiming for "Big Japan" is that either from among the native Japanese population or from among the immigrant population great, innovative leaders in the mold of Ryoma Sakamoto (1836-1867: former merchant samurai and later political visionary who helped lead the fight against feudal Japan after the arrival of Commodore Matthew Perryfs black ships)may emerge, leading to the creative destruction of Japan's rigid social structures and the opportunity for a renewal of Japan's political, economic and cultural life.


Can Japanese people build a society based on coexistence?


There are approximately 2 million foreigners living in Japan (Editorfs Note: This was as of the end of 2005. That figure is now over 2 million). Since around 450,000 of this total are Special Permanent Residents with North Korean or South Korean citizenship, the number of actual immigrants is around 1.55 million. This figure is extremely low comparison with Europe and North America. Some major countries in Europe have foreign populations of between 3 and 7 million. In some countries the foreigners account for around 10% of the population. The proportion of long-term foreign residents in Japan is approximately 1.5% of the total population. As the number of foreigners in Japan is far lower than other in developed countries, Japan may appear to foreign people to be an insular country.

However, Japanese immigration laws allow a wide range of foreigners to enter the country. The door is open to foreign workers. In particular, foreigners workers with specialist skills, abilities and knowledge face little impediment to entry. The number of long-term foreign residents has risen significantly from 1.08 million in 1992 to 2.01 million in 2005. So why doesn't it feel as if this significant increase in foreign residents of Japan has brought about increased interaction and deeper understanding between native Japanese and other nationalities? We do not often see Japanese people praising the work or activities of foreign residents and warmly welcoming them as friends and colleagues. It is rare to hear of a foreign resident of Japan who has achieved notable successes or a good social reputation. It is far more common to hear of problems - problems adjusting to society, problems with children's education, problems of discriminatory treatment, housing problems, social insurance problems - the list goes on and on.

There are clearly many deficiencies with the system Japan has in place for accepting immigrants. But it is not simply the case that Japanese society today is particularly intolerant of people specifically because they come from other countries. The problem goes deeper. I think its roots are in the increasing number of Japanese people who have decided to ignore the people around them. I don't know quite the reason for this. However, I think it is clear that if we do not resolve the psychological issues connected with the current lack of kindness and consideration, there will be no progress on the issues surrounding ethnic minorities and foreigners living in Japan. Resolving these issues rests on the extent to which we can increase the number of conscientious, open-minded Japanese people who show consideration for those in weak positions.

The native Japanese people have lived as a single ethnic group for nearly 1000 years and it will be a difficult task for them to build friendly relationships with other ethnic groups. There will likely be many people who would prefer to deal only with other Japanese people rather than foreign people with different customs and ideas. From an emotional point of view, I would also prefer to choose "Small Japan", with people of Japanese ethnicity in the overwhelming majority.

However, stopping the tide of globalization is impossible. Japanese people can no longer ensconce themselves in a "Japanese only world". Regardless of personal preference, Japanese people will have no choice but to come into contact with foreigners and find ways of living together with them.

As I stated above, people without pride in their own ethnicity cannot display tolerance towards different ethnic groups. Native Japanese people have to develop an ethnic identity and recognize that all ethnic groups are equal in order to form close personal relationships with immigrant groups.

How many people in Japan currently have both a sense of their own ethnicity and a spirit of tolerance? How much public will is there to create a multi-ethnic society?

I do not require hasty answers to these questions for the answers themselves will change depending on the future direction of Japanese lifestyles. What I can say though, is that the future of Japanese society as the population declines will be decided by how Japan chooses to deal with immigrants of other nationalities and ethnic groups.

I will conclude by recapping a possible vision of Japan's future.


As Japan's population declines, the number of residents will surely increase year by year. As the number of permanent residents grows, what may happen? Areas with a large immigrant population may experience into racial friction and conflict leading to discrimination, prejudice, alienation and crime. Such serious problems may start to occur frequently.

But if the immigration issue is simply ignored, skilled overseas workers will not look towards Japan. Then, a growing sense of crisis at the inability to address population decline may prompt some Japanese people to take action to resolve various difficulties. Soon, more people may start to call for the creation of a new society, unprecedented in Japan, as multiculturalism becomes the new ethos of the age. In testing times, native Japanese people will surely rise to the challenge of living together with immigrants. Japan is by no means a closed society in the usual sense of the word. To the contrary, Japanese society has a wealth of diversity and a history of proactively assimilating foreign culture. From a religious perspective, Shinto, Buddhism and Christianity all exist together peacefully. Japanese people already have an ingrained tendency to accept different values and practices. As such, Japan already has a fertile soil for the growth of peaceful coexistence and harmony.

So how will Japan go about building a multi-ethnic society at its population shrinks?

Firstly, the Cabinet will decide to position the creation of a multi-ethnic society as one of the state's core policies. Then the government will call on Japanese citizens to change the fabric of society and create an immigrant nation that talented people from around the world would long to move to, a nation that values the contributions of different ethnicities and cultures. At the same time, the government will establish an Immigration Agency to draw up immigration policy and oversee the integration of a multi-ethnic citizenry. In Japan's regions, it would create a social environment in which an increasing number of Japanese people saw new possibilities and new challenges in living together with immigrants, interacting with people of different nationalities and ethnicities, and working together to make progress.

All human beings have a hidden curiosity and fascination with people who are different. If Japanese society changed course and began to emphasize respect for diversity, then surely numerous people would start to develop a more welcoming attitude towards those from different cultures. Many young people may become attracted by the appeal of different races and cultures and we may see a rise in the number of mixed relationships and marriages. If the majority of Japanese people develop a welcoming attitude towards foreigners, then the establishment of a Japanese-style multi-ethnic society, rooted in Japan's history and social climate, will not be far off.


This essay is an edited extract from Hidenori Sakanaka's Immigration Battle Diary (Nyūkan Senki) (Kodansha, March 2005).



Japan in 2050



Small Japan

Population 100 million

(Immigrant population of 3 million)


Big Japan

Population 120 million

(Immigrant population of 20 million)


The number of Japanese citizens falls. Japan maintains strict immigration policies that as a rule do not permit the immigration or entry of foreign workers and as a result the foreign population stays within 3 million. Japan remains an essentially homogenous society.

State of the Nation

The decline in native Japanese is offset by a rise in the population of other ethnic groups. The ethnic balance of Japan's citizenry changes but the total population of remains the same. Japan becomes a multi-ethnic nation, a nation of immigrants.

3 million foreigners live in Japan mainly in urban areas. Most are either a married to native Japanese or are long term or permanent residents.

Foreign Residents

15 million immigrants live in urban areas and another 5 million in the countryside (including those with Japanese citizenship). Several towns and villages have a majority immigrant population. Many immigrants are from neighboring Asian countries. The largest single number is from China followed by India, Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia.

Income per person rises. People lead rich lives with a three-day working week. Lifestyles diverse with an emphasis on the slow and simple. Houses are larger and income disparities reduced. An idle rich class emerges with plenty of time and money. An increasing number of people favor living a quiet, retired life.

National Lifestyle

Living standards increase and society is competitive. Income disparities increase. Lifestyles are conspicuously different depending on social class. People continue to desire a materially rich lifestyle.

Society is quiet and leisurely. Society is ordered and stable and made up mostly of native Japanese. People are generally satisfied. However, all aspects of society from citizens' lifestyles through to social systems and industrial composition need modification to operate on a premise of population decline rather than population growth. For example people will need to change their lifestyles from the pursuit of material richness to the pursuit of actual living quality. They will also have to bear increased payments and reduced benefits to support the social security system as the birthrate falls and the population grays.


Society is multi-ethnic and vibrant. Various ethnic groups are active in social life. People have strong material desires. A new class system develops. Large groups of minority ethnic groups settle in certain regions. Conflict between ethnic groups is a daily occurrence. Problems of discrimination by native Japanese remain unresolved. A true multi-ethnic society that values the contributions of immigrants is yet to be achieved.

The social security system is supported by high payments (taxes at 50% of income). There is a chronic shortage of care-givers.

Social Security

Immigrants play an important role in supporting the social security system. Around 2 million ethnic Filipinos work as nurses and care-givers.

The economy is in decline and taxes are higher. Savings rates are lower, as is the asset value of land. Land is no longer seen as a guaranteed investment. The consumer market as a whole is smaller by the elderly consumer market is larger. The economy is led by consumption. Japan's food self-sufficiency ratio is higher. There is greater use of natural energy sources to raise Japan's energy self-sufficiency. The economy is more self-contained but massive financial assets are invested overseas. Domestic investment and spending on public works has declined massively. Large general construction contractors have disbanded.

Robotics has grown into one of Japan's leading industries.


The economy is growing. Japan is a major economic power. The income gap is wider and the country faces of energy crisis. The economy is led by investment and based on processing and trade. The fundamental economic structure emphasizing industrial production remains unchanged. Immigrants support the service industry, IT industry and construction industry. However problems including the social cost of accepting a large number of immigrants, environmental problems and urgent problems appear likely to slow future growth.

The robotization of simple tasks is taken as far as possible, making Japan a country of robots. The retirement age has risen to 70 and many elderly people remain hard at work


Simple jobs that native Japanese will not do are handled by immigrants. Discrimination against foreign workers occurs regularly.

Education centers around the development of native Japanese personnel. Integration of elementary, junior high and high schools continues. Universities that cannot attract students are closing. Cram schools no longer exist. But many people dream of remaining a student for life and studying just for the pleasure of it.


Japanese language education is emphasized as a means of integrating the multi-ethnic population. Native Japanese and a range of other ethnic groups learn Japanese together at elementary and junior high school. The elementary and junior high curriculum includes self-development classes that promote a multi-ethnic society. Many schools are established to teach minorities their ancestral native languages.

A new, mature Japanese culture has arrived. Kabuki, Noh, Japanese literature, Japanese painting, animations and Japanese cinema are all enjoying a renaissance.


A new, diverse Japanese culture has been created. Minority group cultures and native Japanese culture fuse. Multinational and international cuisine is popular as are various different types of sports. People from various minorities are active in the world of sports and entertainment including as newscasters and television presenters.

Sumo and professional baseball are enjoying a popularity rebound. Domestic tourism is flourishing.


Soccer's J-League has a fanatical following. Each minority group backs a specific team, and battles on the pitch are hard. Two-thirds of the sumo wrestlers in the senior division belong to an ethnic minority. The diverse range of wrestlers contributes to the continuing popularity of the sport.

Cultural values emphasize substance, spirituality and respect for traditional Japanese culture.

Value System

Cultural values emphasize quantity, material value and cultural diversity.

Native Japanese of various religious persuasions form the bulk of the population, but the role of religion in society is not prominent


Many people of various religions including Islam, Christianity and Hinduism resident in Japan and religion as a whole takes a more prominent role.

Society, composed chiefly of native Japanese, is stable, as long as strict immigration policies can stem the flow of migration.

Public Security

An Immigration Agency oversees social integration in Japan's multi-ethnic society. Inter-ethnic conflicts are affecting public security. Social integration and security maintenance requires a massive social cost.

Rice fields and forests in depopulated areas have fallen into ruin. Energy consumption is lower as is the concentration of atmospheric pollution.


Destruction of the natural environment continues. Severe damage results from natural disasters in overcrowded cities.

Overcrowding problems are resolved. Commuters now have breathing space. More people own their own homes and living environment have improved. Elderly people are concentrated in urban areas.

Urban Areas

Overcrowding continues. Ethnic minorities for the most part concentrated in cities, but living environments for ethnic minorities are deteriorating. Many people are calling for improvements.

The importance of agriculture has risen with the need to secure a stable food supply and the revitalization of rural society is underway.

Rural Areas

The acceptance of immigrants has put the brakes on depopulation. Immigrants employed by food production companies are supporting the agricultural industry. The introduction of immigrants has accelerated the reform of rural society. Agricultural production is higher and food self-sufficiency levels are vastly improved.

There are now more elderly people who have never married. Many people live with their parents as the number of single people who have never left home is high. The number of households is higher, mainly due to one person households, and the average number of persons per household has shrunk to around two. For married couples, it is common for both the husband and wife to work.


Later marriages and low birth rates continue. New arrivals in Japan also choose to have few children. Inter-ethnic marriage is common and there are more multicultural children.

A conservative political party is in office backed by urban residents and the elderly. Their policies favor stability. There is intergenerational political conflict over the payments and benefit levels required to support the social security system.


Numerous different political parties are supported by various ethnic minorities. There are many ethnic minority politicians. Their policies favor reform. There is conflict among citizens over whether to accept new immigrants.

Japan maintains its current defense capability by using advances in equipment to compensate for declining troop numbers.

National Security

Japan's defense capability improves as troop numbers rise and equipment improves. Japan enjoys strong relationships with the countries from which it has accepted immigrants.

International relationships destabilize and the balance of power in international society changes with population decline in the developed world and population growth in the developing world. The international community is reassured by Japan's population decline. Although the international influence of developed countries declines as the population falls, Japan, with a population of 100 million, remains as a major player and economic power, and enjoys a certain degree of influence.

International Relations

The international community is wary of Japan's tenacious maintenance of its population, but Japan's open attitude to immigration is praised in some quarters, particularly by the developing countries from which the immigrants come.



About the author:

Hidenori Sakanaka was born in 1945. In March 1970, he graduated with a Masters Degree from the Keio University Graduate School of Law. In April of the same year, he began working at the Ministry of Justice. In 1975, he won an essay competition organized by the Ministry's Immigration Bureau with an essay entitled "Towards Future Immigration Policy in Japan." Sakanaka went on to realize a legal framework for many of the policies outlined in his paper as he served in the number of posts within the Bureau including manager of the Entry and Status Division, Director of the Nagoya Immigration Bureau and finally Director of the Tokyo Immigration Bureau. He retired in March 2005 and is currently director of the Japan Immigration Policy Institute.


Published works (all in Japanese) include:

Towards Future Immigration Policy in Japan (Kongo no Shitsunyūkoku Gyōsei no Arikata ni Tsuite). Nihon Kajo Shuppan (1977).

Development of Policies affecting Koreans in Japan (Zainichi Kankoku / Chosenjin Seisakuron no Tenkai). Nihon Kajo Shuppan (1999).

Commentary on Immigration and the Refugee Recognition Act (Shitsunyūkoku Kanri Oyobi Nanmin Ninteihō Chikujyō Kaisetsu). Nihon Kajo Shuppan (1994).

A Framework for Japanese Immigration Policy (Nihon no Gaikokujin Seisaku no Kōzō). Nihon Kajo Shuppan (2004)

Building a Society Which Can Give Dreams to Immigrants (Gaikokujin ni Yume o Ataeru Shakai o Tsukuru). Nihon Kyohosha (2004)

Immigration Battle Diary (Nyūkan Senki). Kodansha (2005).


English text by Andrew J. I. Taylor, a freelance translator living in Tochigi Prefecture, Japan since 1997.

If you require a Japanese-English translation, please contact andrew_t@pobox.com