"One Culture, One Civilization, One Race"
"We are on a roller coaster at the top and we're going down."
"Many Japanese see refugees and immigrants as the same group [fearing they will be flooded by destitute poor and an increase in crime]."
Toshihiro Menju, managing director Japan Center for International Exchange, Tokyo
"The Japanese government is proactively accepting foreigners with high skills, but immigration is a sensitive topic in Japan."
"We have the labour population that is shrinking and, short term, we are in a dire situation."
Ken Fujita, deputy director human resources policy, Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry
"Japan does not have room to remain an island nation and ignore foreign workers."
"This will be a very difficult discussion to have, but we need to be open to becoming a bilingual nation."
Hisakazu Kato, School of Political Science and Economics professor, Meiji University, Tokyo
|Flickr -- Tokyo Fashion -- Tokyo Fountain at Night|
Entering Japan at Narita airport, disembarking from an international direct flight from elsewhere, foreigners are directed by signage to line-ups to be interviewed by immigration officials, the prominent signs over the correct check-in counter reading "Aliens". And this is precisely how foreigners entering Japan feel like, seeing that designation. If they're members of a foreign diplomatic staff they may feel affronted, but regardless, this is how foreigners are viewed in Japan: as aliens.
The class system historically viewed indigenous Ainu people as representing sub-humans; shunned and discriminated against by most Japanese in a culture that saw the Ainu as "the hairy ones", unclean and to be avoided, the only trades open to them those such as tanners and butchers. Yet the Japanese are, on the surface, courteous to a fault. And nor do they ever want to bring attention to themselves by behaving in a socially disruptive manner; law-abiding and obedient.
Japan has 128 million people. Decades ago, the government was looking for ways to persuade its elderly to move abroad in their retirement years. They could no longer, past working age, help the economy. Japan is comprised of three main islands in the Pacific, Honshu, Kyushu, and Hokkaido. Mountainous, there is just so much room to spread and to build; airplanes don't fly around Tokyo, helicopters do, in recognition of the proximity of the mountains; Mount Fuji can be seen from Tokyo.
But as Japanese women became more independent, moving away from tradition, they were less likely to have the kind of families requiring that children replace the population as it ages, and Japan is an aging population. The aged are non-productive and the economy suffers now with fewer workers than required. And this is a conundrum in a society that shuns welcoming immigrants to augment its labour force.
Annually, the growing problem of a diminishing population can be seen in the closures of 400 to 500 schools. Towns and villages are being hollowed out as people move to larger urban centres. Thirty years ago Tokyo's working-week population had soared to 14-million. A mass exodus taking hours occurred daily as workers streamed out of the city to their homes outside Tokyo. Depopulation has altered matters dramatically.
The Japan Center for International Exchange has predicted that by the year 2025, 20 percent of the nation's houses will no longer be lived in, if the current rate of abandoned and empty homes continues. Last year, out of 5,000 people applying for refugee status in Japan, a mere eleven of the entire five thousand were accepted. The very term 'refugee' puts off Japanese sensibilities. Where once foreigners were called Gaijin, 'outside persons', they are now referred to as 'imin'.
The dilemma with accepting people from outside Japan, is fears about the prevailing culture and values and language diminishing from a people proud of their heritage, their similarity of appearance, their common language. Yet the Japanese public is mad for English, and English is taught as a second language in schools, even while correct pronunciation and language eludes many graduates. Seeking a solution to the looming problem of an inadequate labour force in a shrinking population Japan is considering becoming officially bilingual.
That Japanese and English become official languages, and this might ease the burden of seeking appropriate language-capable potential immigrants capable of supporting a workforce that will permit the country to retain its economic and manufacturing status. Japan is a beautiful place, rich with heritage and culture. Any who choose to relocate there cannot help but become loyal and appreciative citizens. The present may seem economically blighted, but the future is undeniably bright.