Japan has had a history of being a country very closedoff to immigration, whilst most major developed economies have had largenumbers of immigration. In this essay I will examine the reasons behind Japan’slow levels of immigrants in the labour force. We will also examine if Japanmust increase their rate of Immigration in order to keep up with the other economicallydeveloped countries and what the impacts of increased migration may have on thecountry. Japan has one of the lowest percentage of foreign workersin the labour force in the developed world with only 1.2% of the labour forcebeing foreign which is including the non-citizen Korean population. Whereascountries in Western Europe and other developed countries often exceed tenpercent (Bartam 2005).
Unlike the other developed countries however, Japan’simmigration has really only picked up after it became an economic power asopposed to other countries that arguably used immigrant labour to becomeeconomic powers. So this poses the question of how Japan managed to developinto an economically developed country without the need for migrant labour andwhy have these numbers remained so low. Japan first noticed the labour shortage during the ‘Izanagi’boom (late 1960’s to early 70’s), however it is often thought that these labourshortages were fulfilled by Japanese rural workers who moved to urban arears totake these jobs, as well this there is less of social stigma for people whohave low skilled jobs in Japan compared to other developed countries. Thisdomestic labour reserve is commonly thought to be the reason why Japan did notneed to turn to a foreign labour force as opposed to other economically developedcountries which largely used foreign labour. However Bartam (2005) finds thatthe domestic labour reserve in Japan was very similar to other countries whohave a significantly larger immigrant work force. During the 1960’s it was truethat Japan had far more agricultural workers than some European countries, althoughif we look at the times in which countries experienced a similar labour shortagein similar economic conditions then we find that countries such as West Germanyand France actually had similar labour reserves of agricultural workers (Bartam2005). However, when faced with a labourshortage these countries chose instead to import foreign labour so this begsthe question of why Japan chose to turn to its agricultural workers to fill thelabour shortage when it could have tried to import foreign labour. At the time Japanese corporations were oftenpetitioning the government to allow more foreign workers to come to Japan, Bartam(2005) remarks that in fact many employers were facing a “critical” workershortage with many employer not being able to find suitable employees for thejobs they were offering.
The domestic labour reserve was clearly notsufficient, as the people who comprised this labour reserve were often old andunwilling to relocate as well as having lower levels of education. The problemhowever is that most government ministries were vehemently against the idea ofusing foreign labour. The labour ministry was very against foreign labour, atthe time only allowing a very small trainee program.
It produced many reportswhere their main concerns with foreign labour was that they believed thatforeign low-skilled labour would lead to lower productivity and wages for theJapanese population as well as this they believed it would have a negativesocial impact due to some workers inevitably deciding to remain in Japan permanentlyand starting families (Bartam 2005). So this indicates that although Japan did use adomestic labour reserve to fill their labour shortage, businesses still hadshortages as the domestic labour reserve was not fully suitable to take jobs inurban areas. But the Government had no desire to allow this, which may have stuntedthe growth of Japanese businesses. Bartam (2005) remarked that “it was notpossible for the economy to continue to grow at such a rate, given populationand labour force constraints.” Although there has been some attempt to bring in foreignworkers in recent years, it is clear that all of these attempts have failedmainly due to a lack of sustained government support.
These are technical internships,qualifying as a highly skilled foreign professional, aspart of the EPA program or simply as international students working a part-timejob. We will look at why each of these programs have failed.Technical internships areprograms that allow low skilled workers to come to Japan for three years towork. There are however many issues with this program and the amount ofparticipants in this program is steady declining, year on year. However, alarge issue with the program is that workers regularly face poor working conditionsand low pay. The minister of regional revitalization, ShigeruIshiba said “The reality is, a lot of those who come for training work underpoor labour conditions rather than as real trainees.
” The U.S. Department ofState said in its July 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report that some of theworkers who participate in the program as experiencing conditions of forcedlabour.
These issues will inevitably dissuade workers from coming to Japan inorder to train as the reality is that they are likely to be working underexploitative conditions and not receive any valuable training. Tang Xili, aChinese worker who came to Japan as a technical intern said “I really regretcoming to Japan … I won’t recommend that my friends come here to suffer”(Nohara and Ma 2016). If Chinese workers are having bad experiences and thenreturning to tell their friends and families not to work in Japan, it willcause a drop in people who choose to come to Japan.
As well as this the Yen has dropped 21% against theYuan since Abe took office in 2012, this means that now the average wage inChina ($990) is only slightly lower than they national average minimum wage inJapan ($1100), this makes it even less appealing to travel to Japan as atechnical intern especially as Tang Xili claimed that she was actually paidless than minimum wage for the overtime that she worked. Coupled with the factthat the Chinese workers are often paying large fees (up to $10,000) toagencies in order to come to Japan, it seems like it may be more valuable forthe workers to stay in China since they are seemingly not getting anyworthwhile training that they could bring home with them. Coming to Japan as a highly skilled professional isanother path someone can take to work in Japan. However it’s difficult toobtain enough points to qualify as a “highly skilled foreign professionals” buteven if you do the main issue is that there is a very large income requirementof 10million Yen. Also, the system only covers three fields of work: research,engineering and management. Finally, the system has not had much publicityoverseas due to limited budgets Japan has an ageing population and thus has issuesfinding people to work jobs that students and young people would typically worksuch as working as waiter or in a convenience store. So if Japan had more international studentsthen they would have more people to work these low skilled jobs.
However, Japanreceives a low amount of international students compared to other OECDcountries, with only 5% of international students going to OECD countrieschoosing to go to Japan. As well as this, most of the international studentsgoing to Japan are from Asian countries.Compared to other Asian countries as a destination,China is the seen as the favourite destination with Japan coming as a distantsecond. The EPA was attached to a free trade agreement, so canbe seen as a compromise in that by allowing immigrant labour for carers andnurses it allows Japan to sell goods to South East Asian countries. As well asthis, it serves as a test for the formation of the future immigration policy asone of the options to cope with the crises of care and population shrinkage. Supervisorshave to help the care workers learn Japanese and pass the national exam.
Thisis an issue since the supervisors are not trained language teachers so theystruggle to teach the workers which causes them to have an increased workload.As well as this language teachers are not equipped with the vocabulary that thecare workers would need to pass the national exam. Supervisors are using trialand error to teach the care workers which shows a lack of support by thegovernment. This means that a limitation to the program is the governmentsupport after the workers are placed is not sufficient or possibly that remoteareas are not suitable for this program as the care workers have restrictedaccess to language and caregiving schools. It could also be argued that the 6months of language school that the workers are given before starting work arenot of a sufficient length or quality. One could argue that a reason for the governmentsconsist lack of implementing policies that would bring in more labour is a fearof Japan losing its homogony.
Kazuteru Tagaya, professor of law at DokkyoUniversity believes that pursing any meaningful immigration policy in Japan istaboo: “It’s a taboo because of the premise that Japan is racially homogeneous.A majority of the general public won’t accept it.” (Nohara and Ma 2016). It is because of this that most of the policies Japanhas for low-skilled workers (technical internships and use of international students)are only using temporary workers. The EPA program is the only program which actuallylooks at taking on employess We now must think if Japan can sustain itself withouta meaningful immigration policy against the backdrop of an aging population.Japan sits at record low unemployment rates which means that businesses cannotgrow as there are not enough people to sustain growth.
It is clear that Japanneeds to look to foreign worker to avoid a massive labour shortage in thefuture Barron (2017): “With no one left to build their roads, harvest theirfood, or empty their hospital bedpans, Japan needs workers, and it needs themnow”. By 2050, to prevent a loss of population then 17.7% ofthe population would consist of immigrants and their descendants. To maintainthe size of the working-age population that would have to be 30.4% of thepopulation. Going further to maintain the PSR, it would have to be 87%. Japanhas one of the lowest immigration rates of a developed countries, so evenhaving enough immigration to prevent a loss of population may seem high, butother developed countries have had similar or higher rates.
In 1990, 16 percent of the population of Canada and Switzerland and 23 per cent of thepopulation of Australia were foreign-born. It is vital that Japan changes itsapproach to immigration, to avoid a shrinking population. The main issue with implementing immigration policeshowever is the social impact due to the Japan being a homogenous society andthe idea that ….
.. For some people it may strengthen their race thinking asmore people who are not Japanese live in their society, so people may developan “us” vs “them” mentality which would lead to people thinking more that theyare a distinct race. This may lead to people having ideas of needing topreserve their race since it is part of the extended family they may want tokeep it that way.
Conversely, this idea of “race thinking” may fade dueto immigration as people start mixing and having mixed-race children, the exactdefinition of what is “Japanese” will start to blur until it is no longer asocial construct.