by Robert Moorehead
Hidenori Sakanaka, the former head of the Tokyo Immigration Bureau, is back in the Japan Times calling for revolution in Japan. This revolution involves opening the door to a much larger influx of immigrants into Japanese society. While I agree with Sakanaka that immigration would bring Japan a much-needed influx of workers, entrepreneurs, farmers, etc, his calls tend to fall on deaf ears. What’s the right analogy here? Is he more Chicken Little or Don Quixote? Neither is very flattering, no matter how on target Sakanaka might be.
The article gives one example of an area in which immigration might help boost the Japanese economy. “Japan’s farming population declined by 750,000 to 2.6 million in the five years to 2010; their average age is 65.8. Fisheries and manufacturing, he says, face similar attrition.” What will happen to Japan’s farming industry when the current generation of elderly farmers retires or passes on? Who will tend the fields? The same can be said for the fishing industry.
Generations of youth have moved from the countryside to the cities in search of greater work opportunities. Even in the cities, young Japanese workers have turned away from low-level factory jobs, creating the opening (and need) for foreign labor. To compensate for declines in the fishing industry, rural areas prostituted their lands to Japan’s power industry for the construction of nuclear power plants. Now, between a rock and a hard place, these areas need to decide which is worse, continued risks of meltdowns caused by earthquakes and tsunami, or having foreigners in their midst working and investing in the fishing industry.
Critics of Sakanaka’s plans rightly note that large-scale immigration to Japan would change Japanese society. However, large-scale population declines, combined with a rapidly aging society and few employment opportunities for Japan’s youth will also change Japanese society. Change is the constant. Deal with it.