Accepting immigrants in Japan

by Yuri Kasai

From Asian countries such as the Philippines, Korea, and China, many immigrants have come to Japan. After World War II, the Japanese government accepted many Nikkeijin (日系人), who have one Japanese parent or Japanese parents under the Immigration Control Act of 1952 and taking part in the convention of international immigration. Since the 1970s, in the bubble economy, there were four categories of immigrants, according to sociologist Hiroshi Komai. Firstly, many immigrants such as Filipinos, Koreans, Taiwanese and Thais have come for entertainment work and they can get an ‘entertainer’ visa. Secondly, refugees from Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos have come to Japan for the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees between 1970s and 1980s. The third category consists of Japanese group who went to Manchuria during the World War II. The fourth category consists of businessmen in Europe and the US.

Japanese Immigration laws are more limited to European countries and the US because Japanese society has not accepted immigrants historically. After the crackdown of the bubble economy, the number of immigrants from Europe and the US dropped. However, globalization has been widespread today and immigrants have grown again while international companies come to open their brunches in Japan. The Japanese immigration system needs to be amended because we need to accept more immigrants than before.

In Japan, 24 percent of the population is over 65 years of age, and in 2055 this aged people is estimated as 40 percent of Japan’s total population. We will need more care workers and nurses. We already lack the number of care workers and nurses because these jobs are tough for long working time and heavy tasks. They have a low salary and they struggle to work as care workers and nurses. We need to foster more care workers and nurses and to give higher salary to them.

However, it is difficult for Japan government to use money for more public service because the government holds deficits financing for the pension. Therefore, Japanese government needs to invite more immigrants from Asian developing countries such as the Philippines and to foster immigrants to support our aging society. Especially, Filipino women can care well for elderly people because they have the culture to respect for elder people. Many Filipino women emigrates overseas such as in the US or the UK. They can speak English well and can adopt to an English-speaking environment.

In Japan, although Japan accepts many Filipino women with the skills of nurse or caregivers in the hospitals, Japan government mandates them to pass though each skill exam and Japanese proficiency exam. Because of it, many Filipino nurses or caregivers cannot pass through national qualifying exam and have to go back to their home country. However, they can study Japanese while communicating with patients after they can pass through their skill exam. I think that getting human resources is the urgent problem. The government needs to reconsider and deal with the aging society and the deficit finance for the pensions. Accepting immigrants is a good solution to aging society.

Komai, Hiroshi. 2000 “Immigrants in Japan. Asian And Pacific Migration Journal 9(3):311-326.


5 thoughts on “Accepting immigrants in Japan

  1. This deeply flawed essay provides bad advice. One likely result, if the advice were to be taken, is that a dilution of the Japanese national identity and sense of nationhood. Another is that it implicitly assumes that the Japanese want their nation’s culture to be diluted. A third is that it ignores the ability of the Japanese to change their laws if they so choose to promote marriage and childbearing. A fourth flaw is that it ignores other changes that can ease the burden of a temporarily aging population. Those potential opportunities and their details could fill a book. Fifth, immigrants, too, will become old and need care. Bringing in more of them can only temporarily postpone a day of reckoning that eventually must be dealt with. Sixth, Japan is part of a global economy and it is by no means certain that the planet and its many nations can sustain even the present population at a prosperous level. It certainly is not so doing now. The United Nations publishes many research reports on the economies of nations and their many needs for improvement of living quality.

    • Repeatedly on this blog you chide Japanese people for supporting greater immigration to Japan, noting that immigration would dilute Japanese identity and nationhood. This begs the question who gets to decide Japanese identity and nationhood? Don’t Japanese citizens have a say in this matter?

      The author does not make any assumptions about popular views on Japanese identity, nor does she touch on the issue of “diluting” culture. Such a notion implies a purity of culture … if that’s the case, then maybe Japan needs another period of “sakoku,” in which the country was largely closed off from the outside world. Japanese universities should also stop teaching other languages, and the government should ban all foreign cultural imports. Foreign visitors and Japanese who leave the country should also be closely monitored to ensure that they do not import any excessively foreign ideas. Currently the country is pursuing an alternate strategy, of exporting Japanese culture to the rest of the world. Hopefully those exports won’t dilute other country’s cultures and senses of nationhood.

      Another view is that a nation’s culture is always changing, and is never pure. Decades of research on immigration around the world show a clear pattern that immigrants adapt to their host society, including learning the language and culture. I’ve cited that research, as have many of my students. Assimilation is a two-way street, with cultural impacts on both sides. However, no one is advocating immigration to Japan on the scale of the US, Canada, or other countries. Currently foreign residents of Japan represent less than 2 percent of the population. Even doubling that number (which is not on the political agenda) would take Japan to about a 3.5 percent foreign population. Is Japanese national culture (however you define it) so weak that it cannot withstand having 3.5 percent of the country be from somewhere else? Are Japanese social institutions so weak that they cannot socialize that population? If so, please provide evidence to show that.

      You correctly note that the post does not address other policy issues, such as tax policy, that could promote marriage and childbearing. An analysis of the recent failure of such policies in Japan to affect any significant change in the birthrate would make for an interesting post. However, criticizing a 400-word blog post for not covering multiple issues is rather unfair. The author focused on one issue and addressed it.

      As for the “changes that can ease the burden of a temporarily aging population,” please share your ideas. You say they can fill a book, so I’m assuming you have a long list of changes. Japan will need a multifaceted approach to address the social, political, and economic ramifications of its aging society, so please be a part of that conversation. However, again, criticizing a 400-word blog post for not providing an expansive review of such policy issues seems inappropriate.

      As for the fact that immigrants will themselves get old and will require care, it seems the solution is for Japan to stop having children altogether, since those children will also get old and require care. Why postpone the day of reckoning? If the ship is sinking, maybe it’s time for it to go down.

      As for Japan’s role in the global economy (which could also dilute its culture) and the current population demands being made on the planet, please explain how having people move from a place of growing population to one of declining population increases the net demands made on the planet. Easing the economic impact of Japan’s declining population through immigration would not stop Japan’s population decline, but as part of a broader set of policies it could minimize the impact.

      • I appreciate your heartfelt response. This is not a full reply, but touches on a few selected points. Do I “chide Japanese people for supporting greater immigration to Japan?” Hardly. I was not, and am not, aware that the Japanese people, as a nation, are seeking higher immigration. To the extent that higher immigration is their national desire, that is surely their choice to make. The dilution of present-day culture is inevitable with higher immigration, as seen in numerous nations. That observation does not overlook the fact that cultures are invariably dynamic. The impact of immigration is to increase the tempo of cultural change. If the increased rate of change improves the Japanese culture, many will consider that a desirable outcome of higher immigration. I do not make the assumption that Japanese culture will benefit, overall, from higher immigration. However, much depends on the specifics of increased immigration. America has experienced positive and negative impacts from higher immigration. Potential changes to ease the burden of an aging society in Japan include mutual-help communities where people in various stages of aging provide partially for themselves; the increased use of robots, where Japan is a leader; buildings and vehicles designed for the aged, new medicines to alleviate the trauma and immobility of extreme age, old-age friendly government policies and practices, and changes in tax laws to promote greater retention of personal income to ease the final years. There is much more that can be done. A minor change in most of this nation has been the provision of ramps to assist pedestrians to move from sidewalks to street crossings.

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