Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
It was good to read comments by Hidenori Sakanaka, former director of the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau, essentially admitting that despite its international treaty obligations Japan is a determinedly anti-immigration country with a racial prejudice (“Population fixes have anti-foreign bias, official says,” Japan Times, Saturday, May 17, 2014). Foreigners always knew it and said so, so Mr. Sakanaka’s confirmation reassures us that we haven’t been crazy all along. He sounds like a man who sees things clearly.
I have two main doubts about Japan’s population conundrum. First, government policy will not finagle a significant rise in the birthrate because government policy refuses to address or even admit the main impediment to children: the high cost of living here. Instead it wastes time with day care, maternity leave, etc. and even wants to make things more expensive by fuelling inflation to kow-tow to corporations. Next, large scale immigration as a population fix will never be approved here. Even if it is eventually, it will be too little, too late to be effective. Preferential regard is already given to immigration by foreigners of Japanese descent, a ridiculous ‘blood’ principle in a formula of ‘return.’ I suppose the conservatives concern about immigration is its threat to Japanese social homogeneity and the imagined complications that heterogeneity would cultivate. But homogeneity is a myth. It always has been, so I cannot consider such concerns ‘natural’ or reasonable. They are eminently unnatural.
Currently there are about one and half million registered foreigners in Japan. In addition there are others who are not registered - tourists and some who are not required to register because of the brevity or the conditions of their stay. So the numbers are small in the overall population, less than 2%. But the number and proportion are irrelevant. The point is that our presence here is as real as it gets. We are a real part of the portrait of Japan.
Japan is already a nation of immigrants. Where did the Yamato people come from? They migrated from China and Korea. In any event, shrinking population is not necessarily a bad thing. The politicians only want us to think it is.
Published on Thursday, May 22, 2014 as “Clear view of immigration bias.”
It sounds like I think government attention to child daycare, paid maternity leave, etc. are bad things. But that’s true. What they are is a strategy to divert public attention from other things and make the government appear proactive and competent.