by Ryo Tanaka
Japan is now in the process of becoming a multicultural country in many ways. But how? What is the goal of this process? Ideological terms such as “multiculturalism” and “coexistence” are often heard and perceived as positive. But does the frequent use of these words really indicate the positive future? Since multiculturalism and coexistence are the “process” but not the “outcome”, it is essential to consider what is going on in the process of becoming a multicultural nation.
In order to attain the positive future of multicultural Japan, I would like to consider its obstacles by focusing on how immigrants affect Japanese socioeconomic stratification. Generally, how a society is positive is measured by two criteria: economic fulfillment and people’s satisfaction. To put those criteria on migrant issues, it is needed to examine both the extent to which migrant workers support Japanese economy and they make favorable relationships with Japanese citizens. The balance of these two should be kept.
Economically speaking, accepting migrant workers is a rational, and in a sense, unavoidable way to prevent Japan from a “population crisis”. Hoffman (2012) emphasizes, by citing the government’s estimation of Japan’s future population, that Japan “needs a fountain of youth” (The Japan Times, Oct. 21. 2012). Indeed, the government estimates that 40% of the Japanese people will be 65 or over. This implies that Japan will suffer from a severe decrease in the workforce in the future. Even today, the Japanese labor market relies largely on low-cost laborers from abroad. For the future, Japan will have to accept more migrant workers to supplement the dwindling Japanese workforce. Thus, “it is no longer possible to live in peace in a closed world only among Japanese nationals” (The Japan Times, Oct. 21. 2012).
Socially and culturally, however, the process of becoming a multiethnic migrant nation is not acceptable for all the people. Hoffman emphasizes the result of a survey that “[a]sked if they would accept large-scale immigration in the interests of reviving Japan, 65 percent respondent said no; 26 percent said yes” (The Japan Times, Oct. 21. 2012). Why do the majority of respondents not want to accept a large number of immigrants even though they might know the importance of them? Cultural difference seems to be the biggest reason. For example, Hoffman reports some Brazilian children “dropped out of school” and even “turned to crime” because they had trouble adapting to the Japanese school environment. At school, “the Brazilian culture of exuberance” and “language barrier” often conflicts with Japanese culture and the dominant Japanese language (The Japan Times, Oct. 21. 2012). Therefore, despite the increase in the number of migrant residents, Japan has not prepared the appropriate educational environment and support for them.
In summary, while is has been argued that Japan should accept more migrant workers to supplement the decreasing workforce, its society and citizens are not prepared to really accept them. In particular, some aspects of the society such as educational environment have not been transformed to welcome migrant residents, and people are not educated to take accepting attitudes toward them. Coexistence does not mean just “existing separately” but “living together”. But the reality is just like “existing separately”. Thus, there is big room for further improvement of Japanese social systems and people’s attitudes towards immigrants both for Japanese economy and everyone’s happiness.
Hoffman, M. (2012, October 21). “‘Only immigrants can save Japan’”. The Japan Times. Retrieved from http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/fl20121021x3.html