October 21, 2004

DOMO ARIGATO, MR. ROBOTO:

In Japan, foreigners need not apply: Traditional, conservative and culturally insular Japan is graying; the workforce is shrinking, unskilled labor is in short supply and the nation desperately needs more doctors, nurses and caregivers. Yet many Japanese reject foreign workers for anything but low-end manual labor. (Jamie Miyazaki, 10/22/04, Asia Times)

Officially, Japan has maintained a tough line on foreign workers dividing them into two categories: specialized professionals with technical skills, and unskilled laborers. While the door to professionals is open, the government is not handing out visas to unskilled laborers, at least not publicly. The rationale is that unskilled immigrants could trigger a deterioration in labor conditions and a rise in crime.

The Japanese government has begun to acknowledge, though, that changes in the workforce will be inevitable. At the beginning of October a Foreign Ministry panel urged the government to accept more unskilled labor from abroad.

Today foreign workers account for only 1% of the Japanese workforce, compared with 10% in the United States. However, this might change over the coming years. Japan's graying population is facing a swelling deficit of workers. A report last year by Keidanren, the influential Japanese business lobby, forecast a labor shortfall of 6.1 million workers in the next decade, with agriculture and nursing being hit especially hard.

All this has the business community worried, and with the brutal and dismal taskmaster of economics hanging over it, Keidanren has repeatedly urged the government to ease restrictions on unskilled foreign laborers. In April it released a report calling for the creation of a minister of foreigners' affairs in an effort to make Japan more receptive to foreign workers.

The Japanese public, however, remains cautious, especially to the prospect of any influx of unskilled workers. While the public may acknowledge the gestating worker shortage crisis, it isn't willing yet to grasp the nettle.


Problems frequently get better if you deny them until the very last desperate minute.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 21, 2004 3:56 PM
Comments

Don't forget the half-assed desultory fixes that only make the problem worse.

Posted by: Governor Breck at October 21, 2004 4:16 PM

As long as Japan keeps out the foreigners there will be no problem.

For decades, Japan has had a policy of forced early retirement for its workers. If this has to end, then it's better for all Japanese, for those who get to continue working until a normal retirement age as well as for taxpayers who no longer have to subsidize workers in their 50s who have been pushed out to make way for the young.

Posted by: Bart at October 21, 2004 4:24 PM

They won't grasp the nettle but they may drink the hemlock.

Posted by: luciferous at October 21, 2004 4:27 PM

Bart:

Of course the elderly majority will vote itself back to work!

Posted by: oj at October 21, 2004 4:28 PM

Given Japan's lousy provisions for people in the 50-60 age range who get dumped by the big companies, they probably would. Forty hours a week on the Toyota assembly line beats scrambling for odd jobs, which is what they do now.

Posted by: Bart at October 21, 2004 4:35 PM

Bart: Wouldn't it be better to just kill all the retirees? They are just a drag on society, after all.

Posted by: brian at October 21, 2004 4:36 PM

I wonder how many advances in robotics the Japanese will make given the labor shortage. Technologically innovation always accompanies a labor shortage. It's been that way ever since the Black Death ended serfdom.

Businesses always complain about a shortage of unskilled workers because they cost nothing and drive down the wages of others. The Wall Street Journal's entire existence is predicated on that fact.

Japan will do fine if it continues to not let people in.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at October 21, 2004 6:41 PM

"Problems frequently get better if you deny them until the very last desperate minute"

Yep, that works for me.

Posted by: h-man at October 21, 2004 6:42 PM

Chris:

Lack of human contact in SuperMax prisons is already making prisoners psychotic. If you saw Lost in Translation you'll be familiar with the treadmill scene where there's no one there to help Bill Murray. No society that anti-human can thrive.

Posted by: oj at October 21, 2004 6:48 PM

Actually, about half of all problems go away if you ignore them. Another quarter will continue on indefinitely as a low-grade nuisance no matter what you do. The last quarter will kill you unless attended to immediately.

All problems look alike.

Posted by: David Cohen at October 21, 2004 7:08 PM

Strike that:

Actually, about a quarter of all problems go away if you ignore them. Another quarter will continue on indefinitely as a low-grade nuisance no matter what you do. The next quarter will only get worse if you pick at them. The last quarter will kill you unless attended to immediately.

The trick is to be able to tell them apart.

Posted by: David Cohen at October 21, 2004 7:10 PM

But it's all the same to a Zen Bhuddist. Being and non-being are illusions. Hai-hai.

Posted by: Lou Gots at October 21, 2004 10:43 PM

If you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you.

Calvin Coolidge

Posted by: at October 21, 2004 11:08 PM

The 10th being the Depression.

Posted by: oj at October 21, 2004 11:15 PM

I did see Lost in Translation. I also lived in Japan about 10 years ago. The Japanese will do quite fine.

I remember one time when I was in Osaka looking for a bar called the Pig & Whistle. I asked a passer by how to get there. He got off his bike and told me to follow him. I thought it must have been close if he was willing to walk me there. It took 10 minutes. And then he had to go back to where he had been so he could continue. I cannot imagine a similar situation happening to me in America where someone would purposely go out of their way for 10 minutes just to help a total stranger go to a bar.

Lousy customer service in some hotel exercise room is not proof of an anti-human society. The entire culture is based around the idea of community.

The entire population of Japan could decline by 20% and they would still have more people than did in 1900. There are plenty of people left alive, and they do things together all the time.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at October 21, 2004 11:43 PM

Chris:

What are some other nations that were "fine" while losing population at that rate?

Posted by: oj at October 21, 2004 11:58 PM

Just wait until there is no one to take care of Grand ma at the old folks home.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at October 22, 2004 12:15 AM
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