Labor shortage and immigration in Japan

by Yukari Deguchi

Today, most countries accept immigrants. Global immigration is sometimes seemed as a new issue, but it has been controversial for long time. In case of Japan, it has Koreans who are deeply related with WWⅡ. After the war, from 1970s, European and American men moved to Japan as “Gaijin-shain (外人社員means foreigner office workers)”, and women from South-east Asia came to work at sex-related business. From 1980s, because of rapid economic growth and labor shortage, Japan accepted a massive amount of Nikkei-jin like Japanese-Peruvian and Japanese-Brazilian as blue color workers. Recently, foreigners who work for nursing and caring have become a major issue about immigrant in Japan.

This kind of workers came from mainly the Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand. From 2004, based on EPA (Economic Partnership Agreement) between Philippine, Indonesia and Japan, around 500 workers have come to Japan in each year. In Japan, labor force is shrinking while people who need care are increasing because of the falling birthrate and aging population. Therefore, foreign nurses and care givers will be important and essential in the near future.

However, the situation those workers are in now is very tough. For example, the workers have to take Japanese lessons and study for the national exam to get license while they continue to work. If they couldn’t pass the exam, they have to go back to their home country as well as they can’t get opportunity to work in Japan. The exam is written by many difficult kanji even for Japanese and very few workers can pass it. In addition, they can prepare for the exam only for 3 or 4 years. Since this reality, the government is criticized by media and citizens and the situation has come better through only gradually.

Many criticisms focus on their sever conditions to pass the exam, but I think there are another important point for foreign workers. They are all young people who are from Muslim countries. I wonder if they can easily get use to differences of culture and customs between Japan and their home countries. Are they allowed to wear scarfs during work time? When and where they pray? Aren’t daily meals which are supplied by their reception facility prohibited for religious reason? Don’t they feel homesick? I had many questions so research and seek answers, but I could find little information. Dose it imply that these cultural problems get little attention in the society?

Japan has accepted many workers and now, the amount of them are more than 1,400. They will support Japan society and many of us will reap a benefit thanks to them. Therefore, we, Japanese have to think about it and suggest alternative way that they can live in Japan without such cultural obstacles.

I think it is helpful for workers to make community for foreign nurses and care givers like many immigrants in the world make and manage their cultural community. If it is difficult to gather, SNS like facebook can be useful. Sharing their stress, working condition, information about exam, and way to deal with cultural problems, they can get alternative home and find comrades. By strengthen ties among workers who have same nationality, it will become easier to support workers for their home country’s government and also strengthen ties between workers and their home country.

I think it is important not to make these workers an issues lays in host and home countries, but key persons who have good influence over ties between host and home countries as well as labor shortage problem.


Takashi Yamazaki『看護・介護分野における外国人労働者の受け入れ問題』(Problems on accepting foreign workers for nursing and care giver) accessed in 2012, Oct.

Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry『外国人雇用対策』(Employment Policy for Foreign Workers

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