GLOCOM Platform
debates Media Reviews Tech Reviews Special Topics Books & Journals
Summary Page
Search with Google
Home > Media Reviews > News Review Last Updated: 14:53 03/09/2007
News Review #258: October 22, 2004

Japan: Help Wanted, Foreigners Need Not Apply

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

"Japan: Help Wanted, Foreigners Need Not Apply"
(By Jamie Miyazaki) Asia Times


This is a very comprehensive and intuitive article in understanding the dilemma Japan is facing on how the affluent society could be maintained where the bulk of the population is aging and the number or children are decreasing.

A simple calculation easily indicates shortage of labor in Japan is imminent unless effective measures are adopted, and that the shortage would be more severe in the areas of unskilled, low-wage labor.

An idea tossed around proposes inviting, or demanding, women to actively join the workforce. It is true that the ratio of working women in Japan is significantly low compared to other industrialized countries, and the notion of female participation in the society has certain appeal to naive equal rights activists. But some studies show that if women, now performing the task of full-time housewives were to join the workforce, they could only function as unskilled workers with small productivity. Their output would be insufficient to support the cost of taking care of their children while they are at work, either in terms of individual income or the cost to the society as a whole. (This is in a way obvious, as a trained nurse would cost more than an unskilled and often part-time (female) worker could earn.) A more important consideration is that if women were in effect, however complaisantly, forced into taking up jobs, the pressure could further discourage women to have babies.

The discussion from here often tends to lead to whether to accept immigrants or not, yes or no. At one extreme, it is advocated that since Japan needs foreign workers, it should allow and welcome, and then post-facto approve their stay, all the illegal residents in Japan. Sometimes, to make things worse, this sort of assertion is decorated with a touch of such ideas as humanity or civil rights. Needless to say, nobody wants "illegal" immigrants -- by definition, there is no country in the world who would welcome them. The question is, then, what sort of immigrants should be made legal, or even welcomed, into Japan.

Recently, Japanese people have begun to seriously think of the possibility of accepting and welcoming foreign workers into the society. After all, it is their own way of living that is at stake. In reality, however, it is not as easy as it sounds. Most of the ordinary people have never been in direct contact with foreigners, and to consider whether to accept them into their everyday lives in a non-emotional manner is sometimes difficult -- as would be the case in any society.

Through the FTA negotiations with Japan, the Philippine government suggested Japan to open up for nurses and caretakers to be able to work in Japan. This is what the article introduced has picked up and discusses in detail. As the article points out, "by any measure, Japan is in need of nurses and caregivers for hospitals and old people's homes." A counter proposal by the Japanese government has been that the Filipino applicants must pass a qualification examination based on Japanese standards and conducted in Japanese, and then the total number of workers allowed entering Japan would be limited. As nurses need to communicate with their patients in Japanese, and need certain medical expertise in comprehending what the patients say, it could be appropriate to require certain level of competency to work in Japan, just as in the case of Japanese nurses and caretakers. But there does not seem to be a rational reason to limit the number of workers so long as there is demand for those trained workers, -- except to calm down the anxieties of those afraid of losing their jobs, namely the existing Japanese workers. It may thus be irrational in the context of fulfilling such sector of needed workforce, but could be rational to an extent if a shock to the society or skewing the social structure needs to be minimized.

Such is the difficulty of the issue of immigration. In fact, no country in the world has really resolved the problem. For Japan, the issue is further complicated by the change of demography, and has to be tackled in line with how the future could be envisioned. And the time is limited.

Copyright © Japanese Institute of Global Communications