Immigration and Japan
On Thursday, May 14, 2015 The Japan Times newspaper printed the story “Women before migrants: official,” quoting Japan’s Minister in charge of administrative reform and gender equality Haruko Arimura’s telling an anecdote about seeing an Indonesian relative’s nanny sleeping on a hotel floor. I didn’t think it was an interesting anecdote. The story sounded interesting at first, but it really isn’t. It only sounds that way. I think she was trying but failing to make a relevant point within the scope of her government portfolio. But most of her comments seem to fail to reach that threshold. She’s just wagging her tongue with tripe.
The point of the article was to address Japan’s growing demographic problem - an awfully low birthrate coupled with a rapidly aging population, a shrinking working-age population and an overall shrinking population with a web of anticipated related economic hardships. The notion of large-scale immigration to address the economy’s labour needs is sometimes floated, but Japan will never go for that. As the cabinet minister in charge of promoting gender equality Ms. Arimura was interviewed on the immigration topic and she immediately related it to international terrorism and domestic crime. Kind of a non-sequitur I thought, but it is a common train of thought among Japanese on this topic. The minister said that by drawing more women into the workforce the theoretical need for foreign immigration to grease the economy would be eliminated. I think it’s poppycock, but there you are … .
Three times the story issued vague warnings about social resentment, unease and dissatisfaction as possible trickle-down effects of increased immigration. In other words, immigrants would disrupt society. Never mind that harmony, or wa, is a myth for starters and Japan is riddled with native disharmony, dissatisfaction and resentment. Maybe the addition of more foreigners would settle things down a bit.
I think there is a lingering notion among Japanese - a notion that continues to be exposed in Arimura’s remarks - that Japanese are vulnerable to dangerous foreigners, and that constitutes another reason to resist large scale immigration. But I find the opposite to be true. In Japan it is vulnerable foreigners who are endangered by, or suffer at the hands of dangerous Japanese. Japanese are soooooo dangerous!! And, Japanese prisons are filled with Japanese felons, not foreigners. Statistically immigrants are more law abiding than the natives.
Even so, the minister reflexively frames immigration as a crime issue, thereby demonstrating the tiger’s inability to change its stripes. I object to her premises. By repeating the standard Japanese excuse she dodges the opportunity and the burden of taking a sounder stand on matters. In addition, her statement that “There are things we should do before we talk about” the Pandora’s box of immigration is insultingly disingenuous in the way that it carelessly ignores the fact that the current demographic situation was sufficiently predicted in the 1960s. The government has had over fifty years to plan and do what it “should” do, and it hasn’t. So be quiet!