January 16, 2005

WHAT ABOUT THE ROBOTS? (via Political Theory):

Japan's Laborious Dilemma: The island nation faces a population crisis but does not appear to like the possible solution: mass immigration (David McNeill, 13 January 2005, YaleGlobal)

Today, just 1.5 percent of Japan's population is classified as foreign. Although the government, under pressure from manufacturers, has allowed about 280,000 Brazilians to enter the country since 1990, it has done so by relying on what anthropologist Tom Gill calls a "blood-relation" approach: Most had to prove Japanese ancestry before receiving a visa. Says Gill, "If you could prove you had two Japanese parents, you got a longer working visa than if you had one; if you had a parent, you could stay longer than if you had a Japanese grandparent, and so on."

The current foreign-born labor force in Japan, at a fraction of one percent, stands in stark contrast to Australia (24 percent), the United States (16 percent), Britain (5 percent), and even Ireland (7 percent), which has only experienced large-scale immigration since the early 1990s. Further, Japan only accepts roughly 10 asylum seekers each year. Unique among the advanced countries, it has not taken in a single Kurdish refugee, despite its support for the Persian Gulf War, which led to the flight of hundreds of thousands of Kurds from northern Iraq. As one UN official told me last year, "Japan wants all the benefits of globalization but none of the headaches."

After years of holding back the foreign hordes, however, Tokyo must finally accept that it may need immigrants - lots of them. With consistently decreasing birthrates, the current population of 127 million is set to plummet to just over 100 million by 2050, shrinking the country's labor pool by more than one-third and dragging down national wealth. Meanwhile, Japanese life expectancy rates continue to increase, meaning the contracting workforce will be asked to support a growing army of pensioners. According to long-time Japan observer Alex Kerr, by 2005, there will be just two younger workers supporting each retired person, down from 11 in 1960. This is a system, in other words, headed for collapse.

Some business and political leaders are alarmed enough to have begun looking to the massive pool of cheap labor on Japan's Asian doorstep. The ex-chairman of Keidanren, Japan's top business federation, Hiroshi Okuda, said in November 2002 that his organization favors importing up to 6.1 million foreign workers. Hidenori Sakanaka, director of the Tokyo Immigration Bureau, went further in 2004 when he said that Japan will have to accept close to 30 million immigrants over the next half century. Even Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara, despite a well-earned reputation for xenophobia, said in a 2003 interview that he supports the importation of millions of legal foreign workers, although he added he would put this process under the control of the police.

Think they'll save their society by importing folks they despise and won't assimilate?

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 16, 2005 9:39 AM

What I don't get is, why don't they (and the Germans, French, etc) "save their societies" by just having more babies? And instead of presenting, say, immigration as the answer, why don't governments, newspapers, nationsl figures et al propose that their subjects & readers just get busy?

Well, I know at least part of the answer to the above, but sheesh, this is one "problem" facing nations that's just ludicrously easy to fix. . .

Posted by: Twn at January 16, 2005 10:43 AM


They're secularists, self-absorbed and hateful of anything that inconveniences them.

Posted by: oj at January 16, 2005 10:53 AM

OJ, By what definition are the Japanese secularist?

Posted by: MB at January 16, 2005 11:21 AM


Pick one.

Posted by: oj at January 16, 2005 11:30 AM

OJ, Before I posted my previous question to you I referenced my old dilapidated Merriam-Webster dictionary copyrighted in 1974. It's definition of secularism was: indifference to or exclusion of religion. So putting aside from your analysis and postulation of the longterm demographic consequences facing Japan, again I ask by what definition are they secular?

Posted by: MB at January 16, 2005 11:49 AM

By that one.

Posted by: oj at January 16, 2005 12:07 PM

Send the Norks who escape.

Posted by: Sandy at January 16, 2005 12:08 PM

OJ, Very well. Considering I have nothing but anecdotal evidence to the contrary I won't belabor the point.

Posted by: MB at January 16, 2005 12:30 PM

Here's a story about religion in Japan:


But the broader question is whether Buddhism is even a religion in the Western sense.

Posted by: oj at January 16, 2005 12:37 PM

Japanese are Shinto which defines their way of life just as paganism defined that of Ancient Rome.

They will probably have to opt for a guestworker program, because they are dead-set against immigration. It is virtually impossible to become a Japanese unless one is born a Japanese. Even the great homerun hitter, Sadaharu Oh, is not considered a Japanese, but instead uses a Taiwanese passport. Oh is the Japanese translation of Wong.

The Japanese will also merely push back the retirement age.

Posted by: Bart at January 16, 2005 2:33 PM

Hey, so Russia will get those islands that they've been hankering for, after all. They didn't need to do that sneakly stuff at the end of WW2, they just needed to wait a couple of generations.

Posted by: ray at January 16, 2005 6:00 PM

OJ, As someone who is married to a Buddhist (of the Theravada sect) I can only try to reassure you that her morals and ethics are very much in line with those of most Christians I have ever known.

Posted by: MB at January 16, 2005 7:11 PM

No doubt. Doesn't make it a religion though.

Posted by: oj at January 16, 2005 7:22 PM

OJ, All right I'll bite. What exactly does it take to rise to the definition of a religion in your opinion.

Posted by: MB at January 16, 2005 11:08 PM


God, at a minimum.

Posted by: oj at January 17, 2005 12:32 AM

My wife believes in God or at the very least in an invisible, omniscient and omnipresent deity which she calls God.

Posted by: MB at January 17, 2005 1:16 AM

I should add that she also believes in a heaven and hell.

Posted by: MB at January 17, 2005 1:20 AM


That's not Buddhism.

Posted by: oj at January 17, 2005 8:32 AM

OJ, I concur. But does that in and of itself determine whether the society at large, in this case a primarily Buddhist one, is secular in nature?

Posted by: MB at January 17, 2005 10:30 AM


Perhaps not by itself, but it contributes. And the failure to base the State explicitly on religious foundations, as America is, surely can't help. The combination seems deadly.

Posted by: oj at January 17, 2005 10:43 AM