Japan Keeps a High Wall for Foreign Labor

Immigration provides one remedy to Japan’s lethargic economy, but Tokyo is resisting accepting young workers.

Comments: 81

  1. No immigration is Japanese -style desperate policy of doing nothing only in waiting and seeing unchangeably, even if it faces a death or a collapse. Japan was perfectly defeated and now is failing twice by this desperate policy. Even though revolutionary changes are crucially needed, still now abosolutely no changes continue, just as Paul A. Samuelson severely criticized, by saying "Once decided, even if mistaken, unchangeably forever." In any event, no waken hope for any meaningful changes leads to no happiness. Nonetheless, still now this continues in despair, just like infinitely increasing public debt, continuing to be issued by neglecting the reality of being on the brink of the country's bankrupcy, and so "Japanification" is the worst around the world. Likewise, no immigration perfectly neglects the reality of rapidly ageing population which is one of the biggest factors of deflation during the lost two decades.

  2. Foreign workers from America and Europe would include women, and Japanese society does not yet seem willing to give up its massive policies of discrimination. They are shielding themselves from having to give management and leadership positions to women.

  3. Their CEOs are not looking for cheap or slave labor from India or China to boost the value of their stock options (@ the expense of fellow citizens) so they can cash in. Only American CEOs have that shame exclusively.
    Nor do they have Wall Street “experts” advising them on the “values” of outsourcing.

  4. The Japanese will invent robots to do the jobs the Japanese don't want. Why hire people, if you can buy the machine that doesn't get paid, or need to sleep.

  5. The unspoken assumption here is that Japan needs to grow. Perhaps Japan needs to shrink. Perhaps the global economy needs to shrink, slow down, do less and make do with less. Endless growth is cancer, and it is fatal.

    On the other hand, antiquated notions of racial purity and cultural hierarchy have no place in the future of the human family. We all need to reflect upon what this will mean, in practice.

  6. Maybe it is possible for a 60-year-old citizen to find a job in Japan, unlike the US or Europe where workers are thrown on the scrapheap if they become unemployed at age 55+, because companies can always hire a few cheap young immigrants.

    Sounds to me as though Japan has the right idea.

  7. Many commentators here are pointing at a small negative hole of US system and trying to show it as black hole which engulfs whole US population. Folks at least US has a chance to recover from the slump -- thanks to innovation, diversity, entrepreneurship. But, do Japan has any chance of recovery, at least in this new decade......nope. Why? go thru the article

  8. Why does the NYT feel the need to deride a country for wishing to maintain a homegeneous population? And why does the article (and many of the readers' comments) focus almost exclusively on the economic aspects of the immigration question? What if Japan had decided that the social costs associated with the irrational global race for more and cheaper products, and hence with immigration, are simply not worth it? Is multiculturalism a value in itself? I don't have the answer, but this constant encouragement and heedless rush to destroy cultures simply in order to be more productive should at the very least make us pause and think.

  9. The reason the Japanese did not intern American citizens during WW2 is because they simply did not allow Americans to immigrate to begin with.

    I'm disgusted at the liberals for hating America for interning Japanese immigrants during WW2 and giving Japan a total pass.

  10. Japan will be a victim of its own insular, little minds. They can keep on saying "we Japanese, we Japanese" and treat with utmost disdain the immigrants who wish to contribute to Japanese society. By the time the Japanese society gets blown up by their own demographic time bomb, few people will notice, even less will care.

  11. Japanese are not a stupid race at all. Their logic must be that a smaller population is not a bad thing. When one thinks about it, why do countries race to out-breed each other on a planet with finite resources? The four horsemen follow their prey...

  12. Japan is one of the few countries in the world where nationality is based on race/ethnicity, which is why, historically, it's been a closed society, and why it continues to be closed to immigration today. Non Japanese have never been allowed to assimilate there and probably never will be. They would rather regress economically than have "outsiders" among them.

  13. Racism is ugly no matter where you see it.

  14. What works for the US -- a country built on immigration -- will not work for Japan, one of the most benignly zenophobic and racist nations on the planet (boy, that statement itself reads pretty racist but it was my experience when I lived there). They are trying to create jobs for native Japanese who are really having a hard time getting employment of any kind.

    Bottom line: Japan can be a great place to live and work for some gaijin so long as you have a marketable skill that the Japanese can't or won't do for themselves. The so-called "3K" jobs (kitsui, kitanai, kiken — difficult, dirty and dangerous, like our 3D jobs) that immigrants used to do are looking better and better to unemployed native Japanese. And these foreign immigrants are usually expendable, just like undocumented workers here who farm, work in restaurants and are maids.

    Historically, Japan has survived even when it had to completely remake itself like it did during the Meiji Restoration and after WW2. They will get through this situation as well but it will be a soultion that works for the Japanese.

  15. Japan is doing the right thing for its citizens unlike the U.S. With the H-1B program, no American youngster who is not crazy wants to study science and technology careers because wages are going down and working conditions become much worse due to the influx of H-1Bs from the 3rd world. American citizens are being discriminated in our own country which is something Japan refuses to do to its citizens.

  16. I could have sworn I read an article in the New York times a month ago about how Japan has had decades of high unemployment. That many young people have given up on the idea of careers and refuse to buys houses or longterm investments because their employment is always temporary and uncertain. If that article was correct, I don't see how anyone could really argue that accepting immigrants would be a good idea when there aren't enough jobs for the people already living there.

    Sure, Japan's aging population may cause inconvenience for a while when a smaller, more youthful population has to take care of them. But after that, the remaining population will be living in cities and using infrastructure built for a far larger population and thus individuals will have a higher standard of living. Doesn't sound like a bad deal at all and actually makes sense long term for a crowded country such as Japan.

  17. To better understand Japan's exclusionism, one needs to take into consideration its unique geodemographic feature: as an overpopulated island nation, the Japanese are very sensative to "space of survival".

    Almost every Japanese at every moment is worring about the possibility that his or her space might be squeezed by foreigner, which naturally cultivates an "islanders' psyche" that is characteristic of narrow-mindedness, enviousness, and exclusiveness.

    At least in the forseeable future, there is no evidence that this psyche is changing. Even if the reluctance to embrace inclusiveness undermines Japan's own interest, it is quite unlikely to change course.

  18. Japan, while being one of the most technologically advanced nations, is losing out by being too stiff with its immigration policies. In order to continue the development of the nation, it needs to lure more "brains" into the country. Of course, it can try to develop its own " brains" (in order to do that they have to change their education system completely) but it will take some time. In our globalized world in order to stay competitive a nation must be able to attract "brains" from all over the world. Such immigration policies described in the article can only harm the development of the nation in question. I am for regulated immigration. However, in order to have a great immigration program that can easily attract or lure talents we need into coming to our country, we must first have a normally functioning government that is capable of creating good policies.

  19. The baby boom generation is a demographic bubble, and will be largely gone in just 30 years. Why should countries with thousand-year-old cultures open themselves to an overwhelming flood of foreign cultures, just to finance a 30-year event?

    I'm sure those who survived WWII, and their children who re-built their cultures, would not want those cultures wiped out just to finance their final years.

    This applies to many countries besides Japan.

  20. If you'd asked me -- a life-long liberal -- about this policy before the recession came knocking on my door, I'm sure I would have given at least ten reasons as to why I thought it a bad idea. From where I sit today, I think it's terrific and only wish were doing the same thing here. (Sorry mom, but that's the truth.)

  21. The Japanese position towards foreigners comes close to a policy of racial purity, and as such they do not deserve any relief from the demographic disaster that awaits them.

    The shame is that one only needs to talk to almost any Japanese person who has lived and worked overseas to realize that the ugliness of their government's (and culture's) psychology could easily be remedied. All it would take is a gentle push on a half-open door.

  22. Ms. Fransiska has already made a small fortune in Indonesian terms. If she can't pass this silly test, she'll go home, open a small business or two, and be fine.

  23. They must change and they will change.

    "A haughty spirit goes before the fall, pride goes before destruction."

  24. Japan is shooting itself in the foot.

  25. My visa is that of a descendant of a Japanese national and it was extremely easy to get. However, the paperwork for my Japanese husband to get a visa/green card to come live with me in the USA was a long and complicated process. Several of my friends in Japan carry a descendant's visa. Possessing this makes it is very easy for us to look for work as the companies do not have to sponsor our work visas.

  26. Some Taiwanese friends successfully established their business in Japan for two generations. One important open secret known to foreigns to be successful in Japan: hide your foreign identity. It's their country. They can do anything they want. It's Americans' fault to expect Japan to hold so much American value such as fair to immigrant workers.

  27. I lived in Japan during their boom-early 1980's. It was highly-charged, and other Asian countries once again started to see Japan as a superpower. At the same time they became more developed, Japan's complicated bureaucracy and banking system ushered in their current and long lasting slump.

    It's a mistake to cut these health care professionals loose and, in essence, export them from Japan. But not surprising.

  28. As someone with 10 years of experience as a non-Japanese in the employment of Japanese companies, I would like to offer this bit of unsolicited advice to Ms. Fransiska:

    Be careful what you wish for.

  29. Maybe they should be more like Europe; where the people who were supposedly allowed to immigrate because Europe had a "labor shortage" and their children, regularly riot -- because they can't find jobs!

  30. It's self destructive policy, aging Japan need workers, certainly the country uses foreign hands, though its not always mentioned, at least not officially, please never tell an Ainu 'Japan is A homogeneous society'

  31. In order to keep up with our population growth, our economy needs to generate over 200,000+ jobs per month. But we import 150,000 foreign workers per month. Do the math, and the the way to solve the employment crisis is to reduce immigration.

  32. Sounds like a good description of future America.
    Obviously some people still think that immigration is basically people stealing jobs from them, they often conveniently forget that many immigrants create business and employ American.
    Seems to me that Americans, feel threaten by being employed by Foreign companies. What isd described in this article is happening here in the USA, it is nowadays mush much easier to immigrate to Canada than the USA.If you're looking for a true nation of immigrants look north..

  33. the bottom line is the Japanese would rather deal with robots than humans who are not of their own culture....

  34. I wish we could control immigration like Japan has.

    We have TOO MANY people here- we cannot educate or employ them. We need to close our borders, take a deep breath, and figure out a way to assimilate them into the culture and economy.

    Only then should we tackle comprehensive immigration reform.

  35. Japan is smart to be very cautious. Their homogeneity is a big plus for them and they need only look to Europe to see the problems that are likely to arise with guest worker programs unless the hosting country is prepared to set harsh limits on families and to force departures as many Persian Gulf countries do.

  36. A dying country expressing its arrogance. May Daddy China be merciful.

  37. Why does this article ignore the 300 lb canary in the room, official racism? The policies to keep foreigners out of Japan mentioned in the article, such as "protection" of a local nurses union, are merely carefully crafted veneers to provide cover for Japanese racist attitudes toward outsiders. Rather than participating in and enabling this charade, the New York Times should be informing its readers of this very common Japanese attitude by both its citizens and its government.

  38. God bless the Japanese for protecting their own workers from foreigners who will work cheaper. I wish somebody would do us the favor in this country.

  39. I'll bet somewhere among Japan's leading newspapers, there is an article berating the broken US immigration policy. It is not even clear how one should immigrate here ? All the attention and political debates are focused on granting residency to illegal immigrants. Have we ever heard any bill proposed to streamline the application process for people who are doing it correctly, i.e those who learn English, carry lots of degrees and skills ?

  40. As a liberal and long-time reader of the NY Times, I have grown weary of your apparent editorial policy of always pushing the idea that countries should open their borders to millions of foreign workers, to increase corporate profits.

    The articles all begin the same - you find one sweet, deserving, would-be immigrant, and from there you chide the country in question (the US, Japan, Canada, Italy, France, etc) for not accepting massive 3rd-world immigration.

    Just a couple days ago, you had an article about Italy, and about how young and old workers are competing for scarce jobs. Your solution - bring in thousands of foreign workers!

    Do you not read your own Comments section? Do you not see that your readers do NOT agree with you? Why do you think that you are right, and all of us are wrong?

    I for one no longer give much credence to your immigration stories.

  41. The Japanese don't like foreigners and have made their immigration policy accordingly. That enables them to maintain a quaint but rigid lifestyle for now. It is probably true that this will come to bite them in the long run, but it saves them the culture clashes that the US experiences with its own more open immigration policy. And many would argue that the US does not have a particularly open immigration policy either.
    When new cultures come together there are always fireworks -- in how people get along together and in ideas. It is a constant struggle and balancing act that in the end has worked well for the US. Yet we still ban workers who don't have much education -- even though our farms, construction industry, and hospitality industry needs them. The US, too has eliminated many pathways to citizenship due to the bully pulpits of people like Chris Dodd and the Fox network. We are more open than the Japanese, but we aren't as open as this article would have us believe. And immigrants have a hard time here, as well.

  42. I'm wondering if limiting immigration TO Japan will also cause the Japanese to immigrate FROM Japan. They immigrated en masse before and now seems like a good time to leave again. High cost of living, a stagnant economy and a work culture that overworks people might push the Japanese away to places like Brazil (again), where at least people can have a decent lifestyle. That would sink the country in no time.

    The only reason the US became so strong and Brazil is so strong is immigration. Governments of many developed countries are realizing that they need to open their doors to immigrants because their populations are aging and their economies simply will not hold without young, ambitious folks.

    (And by the way, not 2 years out of the US and I'd forgotten how ignorant some Americans can be with their uneducated anti-immigration banter).

  43. For better or worse, the Japanese have made the obvious decision to downsize and remain a largely homogeneous race. With a land space roughly the same size as California and almost four times the population, Japan is far too crowded. The population needs to contract. Countries don't need to be large to offer a quality way of life. They need to be smart. Take a look at Singapore. However, the Japanese don't have the enlightened leadership they need, so they will have to make drastic changes in order to adapt. I would not bet they can do it because they face almost insurmountable problems. But I hope they can because I intend to remain living here for the next 20+ years or more as an export orientated entrepreneur.

  44. I grew up in Japan and for all it's racial homogeneity it is a real nation with a strong identity, stunningly beautiful art and architecture, tradition, crowded yet vibrant cities, mountain and seaside villages, the best food in the world. At 8 years old I took multiple trains and subways to school by myself. A bit of the gaijin from teenagers but that's kid stuff. Japan and other countries with real identities are so far ahead of the US where self-aggrandizement and individual rights are mistaken for freedom. Tell me what the historic common identity of the US is? Is it Bunker Hill? Paul Revere? Valley Forge? For immigrants and residents alike it's just "opportunity," and in the long run that is not a nation.

  45. What an incredible idiotic article! Do not Americans ever think ^outside the box^? America is a gigantic,grossly underpopulated nation-Japan,China and S Korea all over populated or nearly so. Their attitude to population growth is totally different to the American. Furthermore they have very cohesive populations with unique cultures.They also have forms of sexual liberality that they feel could be taken advantage of by foreigners-and of course they consider themselves a superior people-and why shouldnt they? Bringing in large numbers of low paid workers is regarded rightly with horror.Its true there is xenophobia but is that-in the circumstances so bad? What surprises me however is that no one has mentioned the most important fact of all. We are told repeatedly that Japan has an aging population- so there will be no one to do the work---But Japan already leads in robotics and automated engineering and when the real need arises will be the first country to do the civilised thing and automate work out of existence-and since all other countries will eventually do this it will have a huge industry ready to supply the machines

  46. A typical Americal view of how things should be managed! If the Japanese are willing to accept the lack of workers, it is their choice. They are a free country where citizens can make an informed choice. Why should immigration be said to be the only solution to the problems?

    I am aware of many people from different parts of the world who have got trained in excellent institutes in Japan and have gone back to contribute to their home countries after returning there. In the process, they have not only enriched their home countries, but also helped increase the size of the global pie which whole mankind can share (Japanese companies also gain goodwill in those countries).

    The problem with the whole sale acceptance of American (Australian, New Zealand, Canada, ...) solution of immigration is that it only looks for the progress of the destination country - and in the process starves the home countries of the much needed limited talent. The American solution can work only for limited scale immigration which goes both ways between equally developed countries.

  47. Yonkers, New York
    03 January 2010

    Japanese authorities may not have come out openly to reveal the real reason for Japan's determination not to accept foreign workers in spite of the reasons given which argue in favor of admitting young foreign workers.

    Japan must fear having to cope with the same problems that now plague European countries which have opened their borders to foreign immigrants. It knows that these European countries must surely now be regetting having done so. Consequently, while it must now be fully aware of the fact that it is going through a "Demographic Winter," on balance Japan has come to the conclusion that the wiser policy is to keep foreign workers out.

    Mariano Patalinjug

  48. Two decades in Japan has me agreeing with Michael in the Hokkaido mountains. The country is run by the most uptight, racist Japanese supremacists who do not represent the wishes or the best interests of their people. The Japanese exam for health workers was indeed designed so that foreigners would fail. Some Japanese scientists tried to make robot nurses, to keep the lowly Asians out, but old folks mostly disliked the robots. Japan's male-centric society has created a culture that serves and ultimately infantilizes most men, and women don't want to marry these adult children, so the population is in decline. With a shrinking population they certainly need immigrants, but the leaders have too much invested in the "specialness" and uniqueness of the Japanese race that they fear newer ways of thinking. An insistence on super-convenience in appliances and shopping has created a generation unwilling to do hard work. That would also be solved by immigration, but the powers-that-be would rather shrink their country than change a system that keeps them at the top. The current generation of rulers (not leaders) is the third generation after the postwar economic rise. They have been taught not to think independently but to follow the past. They have no ideas that really help their people. Again, I'm referring to the ruling class, not the workers, but they too have had their initiatives and imaginations stunted by the culture that prefers stunted bonsai trees to mighty oaks.

  49. Is it just me or do Mr. Matsumaru's closed eyes and pursed expression seem to speak for all Japanese - a stoic and constrained tolerance toward the attention of less gifted races?

  50. From Kenneth Ellman, Email: [email protected]
    Newton, New Jersey 07860
    There are many ways to view this immigration question. It is interesting how the domestic population problems of Japan have become a discussion of the immigration question.
    In the case of the United States the extraordinary power and growth we have encountered as a nation is without a doubt based upon immigration and an uncanny integration almost unknown elsewhere. After all the United States is a young country, that unlike China, India, and Europe etc., has been underpopulated for much of its history.
    There would be no United States without immigration.
    But immigration alone is not the story. It is immigration coupled with
    the stability and freedom of a society that allows
    the people to explore, work and develop wealth. Wealth can be very transient since it is frequently based in part on technology and education of the population.
    And without political stability there can be no generalized wealth, for without political stability there is no community of citizens.
    People produce growth by their actions of industry and scientific and technological advancement. Political stability and personal freedom to pursue business, education and knowledge is a definition of a successful society and country.
    China did not become what it is today by dictatorial Communism.
    In the case of the United States with a multitude of immigrants over so many years, the vast majority cleaved to the freedom offered here and learned the skills necessary to function here.
    What binds the people in our country is a common language, a common law applicable to all and a freedom of action that allows individual accountability and vast opportunity. Immigration is not the threat. The threat is a dismemberment of our unity as a nation by a failure of participation and a failure of integration of all of our citizens. To the extent we lose a common language and a common purpose of individual freedom as outlined in our laws and Constitution, we crack the stability of our nation . To the extent we maintain a loyalty to our Constitution and laws and keep our ability to communicate with each other through a common language, we will then also maintain and defend our shared and common choices and life. That shared purpose is simply to be free as individuals, to have our families be safe and to be able to make as much of our time here as we can. For Japan to compel fluency in Japanese is a necessity if Japan is to accept any immigrants and still yet be preserved as a nation. The alternative is for its residents to not be able to communicate with each other. Japan unlike the United States is not a nation of immigrants. It is a very different culture and history. There was a time that Japan, by choice, was totally cut off from most of the world. The United States by Rear Admiral Matthew Calbraith Perry opened significant commercial and cultural contact with Japan during 1852-1854 by brute military force. Japan is not the United States. It is not a nation of immigrants.
    Do not equate the United States with Japan. However both nations need their citizens and immigrants to possess the same abilities if the nation is to survive. The commonality of a nation requires the necessity of a common language. In the case of the United States there must an identification with the law and Constitution based upon individual liberty. That is the loyalty to the nation that holds the Country together.
    Do not be afraid of legal immigration. That is like being afraid of your Grandfather. Instead be afraid of a society where citizens do not know each other, cannot speak to each other and do not know and love the Constitution of the Country they live in. That is the danger. That immigrants should learn English, what it means to become a part of America and then do become a part of America is nothing to be feared. The banality of television is more of a threat to this nation than any legal immigration.
    Kenneth Ellman
    email:[email protected]
    Newton, New Jersey 07860

  51. I lived in Japan for 6 years, as part of a guest worker program teaching at a Japanese university. I married a Japanese man and when he took our 2 and 4-year old daughters to a park one day, a group of elementary school children with their teacher pointed to them and whispered, "Gaijin!" or foreigner. The teacher scolded them, saying, "They are not foreigners, they are your friends." This incident confirmed for my husband and me that my children would have a much harder time fitting in to the society than they would in the US, and we made plans to move back to the US.

  52. I've always said the Japanese did the "America thing" much faster than America and reached the conclusion before we did. Their Central Bank destroyed the economy with it's manufactured real estate boom, the cost of living is now out-of-whack with incomes, and all of the college educated young people are now putting off marriage and family ostensibly until they can afford it. Of course that will be never because, like here, their central bank is still sitting on those bad real estate loans from the 80's, keeping everything artificially expensive. Meanwhile, somehow feminist thought slipped in (to make Japanese women see "opportunity" in the fact that family was now unaffordable). And now you have the soshuku danshi (vegetable boys), who are put off by these new morally loose, independent women, and do not approach them at all, choosing a celibate life of hobbies. This is the west's eventual conclusion as well. Everything too expensive, and the educated no longer breeding as a result. To call for higher immigration in response, is to call for total destruction of that society. Central banking and feminism are the weapons the elite uses to bring populations under their control. Shatter the family and enslave all of the confused individuals.

  53. Another bit of group think from the NYT.

    Back in the 1970 many of thought that economic and population growth was the problem not the answer. In those days the NYT agreed. Now, the NYT seems to believe that growth to infinity is both possible and desirable.

    In the case of Japan, I seem to remember and article or two on these very pages reporting that unemployment is a persistent problem in Japan and that there is not enough work for the population Japan has. Perhaps the Japanese have decided that intelligent sustainability rather than mindless growth is in the country’s best long term interests, even if modern liberal/progressives find the idea disgusting and immoral.

  54. Mark Klien M.D., Post # 10. You disgrace yourself. I urge you to read the book "None Is Too Many" the title of which is a phrase from a memorandum written by a Canadian Deputy Minister on the admission of wartime Jewish refugees to Canada. You should also read "The War Against The Jews." Listen buddy, the targets keep changing, but hatred will always find a way, find new lies, create new philosophical camouflage. How shameful that you have joined this chorus. You and your compatriots who share your attitudes, all disgrace your immigrant ancestors. How contemptable.

    C. ALEXANDER BROWN

  55. Two telling comments:
    "Japan has a distinctive and particularly harmonious and embracing society that its inhabitants value above all else." and "The Japanese, Chinese and Koreans all highly value the homogeneous nature of their societies."

    In other words, like the concept of Aryan purity of Germany in the '30's and '40's, they feel their people and culture are superior to others. This is racism, pure and simple. This in spite of the fact that they need more workers as their population ages and the workforce diminishes. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot! There, I've said it!

  56. Any close countries like Japan will soon vanish from the modern world as the Mayas and the Incas.Eventually only the assimilated societies will thrive due to laws of nature.No need to worry about Japan in due course of time they will find the suitable solution hopefully not the final one.

  57. Is there anything new here? It seems that this article gets written every year about Japan. Demographic time bomb: tick, tick, tick!

    I wonder, what if a demographic time bomb exploded? What if, the place fell to such pieces that the few remaining Japanese people moved to some other country and allowed the geographic Japan to be repopulated by animals?

    Seriously, though, I find these articles about demographics to be rather tired... is there any country that does right by its immigrants? Any country that actually wants to see a multicultural society (beyond what's already there, centuries in the making)? Japan may be a bit extreme - jeez, it doesn't even accept the children of its immigrants abroad returning to their "motherland" - but show me a country that would like to see its society change through the introduction of new ethnic groups, new religions, new languages, new customs, etc.? I don't think any of that is inherently bad, though at the same time I don't find any inherent good in it either. It's a neutral issue. People talk out of both sides of their mouths when they talk multiculturalism: on the one hand, people seem to enjoy the fact that there are "cultures" intact, uninfluenced by the outside world, some Amazonian village, perhaps; yet, at the same, time, they feel it's good that multiple cultures live and thrive side-by-side (which they rarely do; even in the USA, multiculturalism is pretty superficial, not much depth after the immigrant generation dies off).

    We focus on the countries with the ticking time bombs, but then again, how far off from implosion is a place such as China? Or any other country with more out-migration than in-migration?

  58. A lot of ignoramus comments are being made here. About Germany, for example. The only societal problem with immigrants in Germany is with Turkish communities. Further, the majority are not, strictly speaking, immigrants, but the German born children of Guest Workers who were invited to Germany to fill jobs in the boom years. In Germany there are hundreds and hundreds of immigrants in research institutions (there are no American equivalent to these large important research institutes), hospitals and universities. There are black Germans in top administrative posts in Banking and Industry. Also, lots of Japanese in industries. Contrary to what Chancellor Merkel said, there is NO problem of multiculturalism in Germany, there is a problem of inadequately educated and un-integrated Turks, with roots in backward villages and communities in their native land. Astonishingly, many of them, even now, are refractive to the idea of their children getting a good education. Many writing here are projecting American problems and attitudes unto countries they are totally ignorant of and do not understand. Germany is one of the LEAST racist and prejudices countries in the world, and Japan is one of the most racist and prejudiced nation.

    C. ALEXANDER BROWN
    Rockcliffe Park, CANADA,
    Baden-Wuerttemberg, GERMANY.

  59. Japan does right thing.
    Japan puts bar high for immigrants to make sure that they don't compete with majority of local workforce. Only best educated and skilled people should be let in.
    Tokyo learned from European troubles with low skilled labor from Turkey and Africa. These immigrants failed to integrate and became the most vulnerable part of society.

    Some is happening to USA. Government bent to business interests and let in 10,000,000 illegals cheap labor. The cost of their integration taxes whole society and runs many times over any economic gains.

    BTW, I am also immigrant, so I know the issue first hands :).

  60. I like how the top rated commenters here are themselves post-fascist xenophobes - like the majority of Japanese. As Japan gets older and older, its economy will be drained of its vitality - they'll allow true immigration eventually, but by that time they'll be too senile to keep any reasonable control over it, and will regret that they didn't start sooner.

  61. The rest of the world makes America's racism look tame in comparison.

  62. Why are almost all discussions around economics so short sighted? It's always about growth. It's always about more workers, usually cheap, who turn the cogs of big business.

    What happens when THESE workers age? How many more worker bees do you import to support them? At what point do we all wake up to understand how tiny this planet actually is?

    I find Japan's exclusion of gaijins refreshing. I love to go there to vist my son who has married a Japanese woman. I am ignored by the vast majority. It's a refreshing change from travelling in the Middle and Far East.

    My son finds the peaceful and respectful society more to his liking than the shallow pop culture our hemishpere reveres. I understand Japan's reticence to limit immigration. Their traditions and customs are deep and not easily learned. Most gaijin commit fauz pas every day that offend. Why would they open the floodgates to a whole host of culturally insensitive foreigners who are only coming there for economic reasons?

    Canada and the US are different. The great migration of the fifties which brought my own family to Canada largely came to an empty land - the First Nations people had been anhialated. There WAS great opportunity. The fifties were an immigration fantasy world. It's no longer the case.

    Japan will survive their policies. Why do they need to be at the top of the economic heap? The old will die. There will be fewer people. The people to job ratio will adjust. Japan will remain Japanese. Why is that so galling?

  63. I'm mind-boggled at the mindset of Akira Saito, who chose to put his three (Japan born) children in the local Brazilian school. Presumably he speaks Brazilian Portuguese at home with his wife and children. Living in Japan, he has the perfect opportunity to raise thoroughly bilingual children and he is instead isolating them so that he can raise them to be ignorant in the language of their birth country.

    My own son-in-law lived in Germany during his teen years while his father was in the military. Today he understands virtually no German, because his parents chose to put him in the Base high school instead of the local school. A terrific opportunity, wasted.

  64. I'd like to point out that this same debate is raging in Europe right now. Germany's Chancellor Merkel said that multiculturalism in Germany has "utterly failed." Merkel and her party are not against immigrants; on the contrary, they want to assimilate legal immigrants into German society, to make them German. It is this effort that they admit has failed and, I expect, would fail in Japan too (I lived there for many years, speak the language and know this quite well from personal experience). People from Malaysia may want to work in Japan, as I did, but do they want to become Japanese?

    It seems that only large & rich countries are expected to allow immigration on a scale that can change their culture. Nobody in the US expects the Tibetans to welcome the Han Chinese into their country. And let's not even talk about Saudi Arabia, which barely even allows tourists.

    Separately, I would like to correct one widespread misunderstanding. Many people have commented on what a small, crowded country Japan is. In fact it's even smaller than it appears, because some 88% is covered with mountains and relatively uninhabitable. However, that's not why everyone's living conditions are so cramped. They are cramped because of crazy zoning laws that make it difficult for people to build high buildings or basements. As Richard Koo of Nomura said, Japan's problem isn't a lack of land, it's a lack of floor space. NYC is much much more densely populated than Tokyo, and people seem to enjoy life there well enough (although few would describe their apartments as "spacious.")

  65. @JS Mill,

    And what is the common identity of the US?
    "E Pluribus Unum" -- Out Of Many, One.

    The fact that ethnic groups that are bitter rivals elsewhere come to the US and live out their lives in peace is so common as to be cliche. I'll take a population that feels fairly secure in their identity and can contribute to the larger US culture over a millennium of history and tradition that is incapable of growth. Heck even the early American slaves--my ancestors--brought to America certain West African foods and practices that are incorporated into general American culture now.

    Tying your state to one particular ethnic identity is a recipe for failure, as it requires your state to continuously elevate that identity above all others and creates all sorts of problems that are downright racist (there are obvious examples of this in the current world and recent past that need not be pointed out by name). This is especially true when your particular ethnic group is waning in power relative to its neighbors and about to dramatically shrink in size.

  66. Sorry about the length of this comment - I had been
    considering writing some sort of opinion piece/rant
    on this subject myself.

    As a long-time foreign resident of Japan, I can say that the article depicts
    the situation here quite accurately.

    Neither population decline or somewhat selective restrictive immigration
    policies are necessarily bad, but how they are occurring in Japan is
    very problematic.

    To clarify one thing, Japan is only very qualifiedly "democratic". Although
    there are elections, politicians' ability to control the bureaucracy is
    very limited and collusive ties between bureaucracy and business are
    extensive. Thus, the significant players in the system are mainly
    concerned with maintaining themselves and their position.
    Although there are glaring "big picture" issues like immigration
    that need to be dealt with, it seems that the likelihood of that happening
    before some kind of catastrophic failure of the current
    system seems remote.

    (if/when that failure occurs, you may be sure that the radical right
    and their old power/money backers who have no interest in democracy
    whatsoever will be there to blame foreigners for the disaster)

    And there is a distinct overall lack of vibrancy or "buzz" -
    Japanese people themselves are very aware of this. But
    the image people here have of immigration is what they
    associate with the US and it tends to focus on crime,
    loss of cultural identity and chaos. This is reinforced
    by zenophobic politicians and media, of course.

    When Japanese people look at the America of the
    post-WWII era, which was generally admired, and
    compare it to the America of today, about which
    they are mostly ambivalent to negative, a lot of
    the change they likely attribute to immigration,
    correctly or not.

    In my opinion, lower population here and almost
    everywhere in the world would be a Good Thing.
    But the nature of the population and what it's
    engaged in are also critical. As the article indicates,
    the rapidity of decline is skewing the age demographics,
    the ratio of elderly to young, working age people
    becoming extreme.

    There is a further problem in that the younger population
    is , for the most part, not engaged in primary or
    secondary sector type work that actually produces something,
    they are mostly in low level service sector work, if working
    at all. Most of them lack language and/or technical skills to
    compete on an international basis. A significant number
    are in the construction sector that is inordinately large,
    having been kept afloat buy massive deficit spending
    on infrastructure that is often useless and always expensive.

    Meanwhile, rural areas are rapidly depopulating and the
    centuries-old farming ecosystems are collapsing, there
    are few young people in farming, fishing or forestry.

    Although there is widespread interest recently
    in farming and rural living among young people and recent
    retirees, there is little systematic effort at the national
    level to support/promote this.

    There is also renewed interest in the self-sufficient economy
    of the Edo Period (1603 to 1867), which is great, but the
    population was about 30 million for most of that time,
    only a quarter what it is at present, and the bulk of the
    population was engaged in the producing things like
    food, clothing, shelter etc. from local resources.
    Japan is now highly dependent on imports of
    these just to exist, plus four times the population
    with a lot of the best land paved over and local
    fisheries depleted.

    It seems like Japanese self-interest would dictate a
    moderate level of immigration. They would do well to
    promote some kind of landed immigration, maybe
    from Vietnam or Laos of people to repopulate some
    of the agricultural and mountain regions. Making it
    easier for people with professional skills to come
    with their families and to know that they had some
    long-term future in Japan would be in Japan's interest
    as would be allowing small-scale investors in the
    manufacturing sector to come in. One of Japan's greatest
    assets is manufacturing expertise, but much of it
    is in small family companies, many of whom are
    closing simply because there is no one in the family
    who wants to take them over - foreign participation
    could revitalize a lot of them...

    But don't hold your breath. There are motivated
    people and companies here, but they are not finding
    it easy to realize their potential in Japan - young
    people that can't get work here, engineers that
    have retired here or been laid off are headed to
    other places in Asia. Brazilians find that Brazil
    doesn't look that bad these days. Americans
    find that well, Brazil or Argentina don't look too
    bad...

    About the sustainable economy of the Edo Period:

    http://www.energybulletin.net/node/5140

  67. However misled Japan's policies may be, at least its government makes some effort to improve life for its people.

    I just got back from a one-week trip to Japan. Granted, what I saw of the country -- i.e. the Tokyo area -- was hardly representative, but I couldn't help noticing some key differences from New York and the U.S. in general, particularly in how clean the country is and the widespread availability of public transportation, even to remote locations.

    In the United States, it's virtually impossible to get around without owning a car in most of the country, and efforts to improve and expand public transportation are frequently thwarted by NIMBYs, politicians sucking up to corporate lobbyists and assorted penny-wise/pound-foolish "fiscal conservatives" (see the Times' article about people in California opposing high-speed rail because they're afraid it will damage the perfect images of their precious little towns).

    Meanwhile, we cling to trade policies that allow corporations to freely shut down factories and ship jobs abroad, resulting in a massive trade deficit (including one with Japan, despite the high value of the yen!) and give out tax breaks that disproportionately benefit the wealthy with the assumption that they will invest the extra money (guess what? They don't; ask the Congressional Budget Office and Moody's if you don't believe me), all the while driving up the budget deficit and debt. And to solve our deficit problems, some Republicans have seriously suggested cutting funding to the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, even though the budgets of both are tiny and both agencies are actually huge economic assets due to their crucial role in scientific and medical research.

    All in all, we can sit back and criticize Japan for its xenophobia and racism (which are very real), but how are we any better? We have more than enough political stupidity in this country to offset whatever benefits we derive from immigration.

  68. A conundrum being faced by many nations across the world. If the manner in which one defines one's nationality is threatened by the only vehicle by which it can be preserved, what is the right choice? I would hazard a guess that those predicting American demise would do well to give more weight to this factor as our ability to accept, absorb, acculturate, and utilize potential immigrants far outweighs relative abilities of any of our economic competitors.

  69. Have you ever seen how little space is allotted to each family in Japan? The place has people packed in like sardines!!!! They need to get rid of people not bring more in, the country passed its carrying capacity long ago and is just now finding some relief.

    How cruel is it to tell all the Japanese people that they can only have 1 child because they are overcrowded, then replace their potential children with strangers????

    America does not hire skilled labor, it hires SLAVE labor... The Visa programs need to be stopped immediately! It is nothing but exploitation!

    Train Americans on the job...... to do the jobs that need to be done and cut out all this sky high college tuition that eats up any gains in employment.

  70. Why is growth the only way to stay prosperous. Even if the shrinking population has less overall, what matters is there is enough to keep everyone happy.

  71. The Japanese and (South) Koreans extend that practice to their companies here in the US.
    At Sharp, I remember I went to an interview and despite that the recruiter said I had an excellent resume, it was required that I take basic Japanese, and then I had to wait for over a month to see if my hiring was approved from the their HQ in Japan. I didn't mind about learning Japanese - I really looked forward to it - but I found it ridiculous that I had to wait for a long time before approval came from Japan.

    As to a South Korean company in the US - I wonder if the Dept. of Labor should look into the practice that job appliers need to know fluent Korean to be considered candidates as a form of discrimination, as it is a requirement in all the Job Postings from almost every Korean company (though I did not experience this with Samsung, to be fair).

  72. I have a very strong impression that there are far more illegal immigrants than legal ones in the U.S. Although I am a very much anti-Republican, this seems bad and unfair to me. The flood dissolves the culture and does take away jobs. Well, the prison population is ever growing, too.

    As for the Japanese they look blind and stupid, such is an impression left after reading this article. I doubt if the Japanese society is not aware of its own problems. If immigrants are not wanted and hear insults even from children, then they should not come and definitely should not stay. If a young foreign nurse cannot pass the test, no matter what the test is, and it is required, then how does she imagine to do her work? She can be good enough at home. They might be paying less, but life is cheaper as well.

    I had to deal with a doctor from Nigeria in a state subsidized clinic. I've never seen such an incompetence; he could not even speak decent English. I doubt if the Japanese want this kind.

  73. I remember the quote of the late,great economist Milton Freidman,speaking on America's illegal immigration problmem.He said,"You can't have unlimited immigration into a welfare state".I'm sure he meant unlimited immigration of poor people.That is obvious by the fact that California is now bankrupt due to education, welfare and all other govt services spent on poor immigrants who pay virtually no taxes.If Japan can limit the immigrants' access to govt welfare programs,then immigration of talented,hard working people could be an asset to Japan.

  74. Although I've already posted here, some more thoughts came to my mind :-)

    First of all, as far as I know, many Russian women work and stay in Japan. Not necessarily at night clubs and such where they are paid well, of course; some of them marry Japanese men. Now what about racism and xenophobia? Nothing is simple, apparently.
    http://search.japantimes.co.jp...

    So, maybe, that young nurse should start looking for a husband instead. In the U.S., very often you see an aging man with an Asian wife twice younger. That's a solution for an elderly care problem as well...

    I can only agree with the readers who commend Japan's desire to preserve its identity and culture. But I cannot agree with those who call old Europe racist and xenophobic. How come? In large cities that used to be strong cultural centers, you find very little of authenticity. In Berlin, its all Turkish, Russian, Gypsy, Morocco, etc. The only natives you still see are mostly the police. Poor Sarkozy tried to bring some order in that unruly Babylon but oh how much crying occured. Yet, somebody has to say "no". Everything has to be legal, like it or not.

  75. Japan is dead right to discourage labour mobility.
    The world would be a happier place if people everywhere could find well paid challenging employment without having to travel.

  76. What Japan is doing is keeping out human workers to foster their robotic industries. But that is the global trend, as we explained ad nauseam in our books on this crisis caused by the overproduction of electronic goods (e-money who crashed the economy and software suites that throw white collar workers and robots that throw bule collar workers). Good luck my 'human friends'... we are costs
    www.economicstruth.com

  77. "What works for the US -- a country built on immigration -- will not work for Japan, one of the most benignly xenophobic and racist nations on the planet."
    Yes, just ask the Chinese how "benign" were the Japanese towards them during WWII (I'm sure they haven't forgotten).
    I suggest that the xenophobes who say that Japanese should preserve their "pure" identity at all costs (even their own extinction) and that their racism is kind of harmless after all, should watch the movie "City of Life and Death" about the Nanking massacre. The movie is foreign has subtitles so probably several of the commenters won't want to watch it. That could affect their cultural purity (nothing to do with being too lazy to read subtitles, of course).

  78. I suspect that the Japanese are more interested in preserving the homogeneity of their nation than they are concerned by the ecomomic implications of so doing.

  79. # 7. @Bimmer, New Haven, CT

    In reply to this post, what makes you think there is no inbound immigration in India? There are over 10 million Bangladeshi, Nepali, Burmese, Sri Lankan nationals living in India. Not having a formal green card route, does not mean no immigrants. In fact the entire Tibetan nation lives in India.

  80. At least the Japanese people have the opportunity to decide whether they wish to permit more immigrants and are permitted to chose the educational quality of their immigrants. The least educated of Latin America stream across our borders and their ethnic advocate US citizens make every effort to subvert our legal system to permit them to stay. Transnationalists, people who believe in world governance, use the term xenophobia as a brickbat to condemn peoples of a sovereign nation who simply want to be left alone and continue to retain their right to self-determination. Japan wants to remain Japan, a country of unique culture and tradition that's existed so for thousands of years. Who has the moral right to tell them otherwise. Countries with populations that are growing beyond their borders because they have no self-control have no right to tell others that choose to do otherwise that they should accept their excess. If Japan has a looming crisis, it is certainly their right to do so.

  81. Japan has low unemployment, high life expectancy, low crime, good health and a very high level of exports. Their economy is arguably serving society better than ours serves us. While the article has some interesting points, it one-sidedly takes the American economic narrative as THE one and only truth: that society exists to serve the needs of a growing economy. A reasonable person might ask whether this is backwards.

    Regarding the problem of declining population, Japan will benefit in many ways if it can reduce its dangerously high population density. Issues of sustainability will confront Japan sooner than they will confront the US.