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Home > Special Topics > Social Trends Last Updated: 15:18 03/09/2007
Social Trends #22: January 6, 2003

The Declining Birthrate in Japan: Part Six -
A Role for Returnee Emigrants

J. Sean Curtin (Professor, Japanese Red Cross University)

A full list of articles in this series can be found here.


By global standards, current Japanese policy towards the declining birthrate can be considered as fairly two-dimensional with discussion almost entirely focusing on the subject as a purely domestic issue. In many respects, this approach mirrors the stance that Germany has adopted as a remedy for its own declining birthrate trend.* An international perspective is lacking from Japanese government proposals and this is hindering policy development on a vital national issue. Little consideration has been given to how the dynamics of the declining birthrate could successfully be altered by the application of external elements such as immigration. While a more generous immigration strategy could offer an effective new strand to present Japanese policy, the return of Japanese emigrants also presents another refreshing opportunity to explore.**

For over a hundred years, the Japanese government sponsored an emigration programme designed to assist Japanese to relocate overseas. Today, many of these emigrants and their descendants would like to return to Japan, but the state has thus far given little consideration to how such an approach could help alleviate the declining population trend.

In the Nineteenth Century, the Japanese government was concerned about food and employment shortages for a growing population. As a result, the state encouraged people to emigrate with propaganda that portrayed overseas countries as lands of opportunity and plenty. Emigration began to pick up momentum from about 1868. Large numbers of Japanese headed for both South and North America as well as Australia and several other destinations. From 1885, the state introduced a scheme that offered emigrants loans and other incentives to leave Japan. Consequently about 780,000 people relocated overseas in the period up to the start of WWII. After the war, a new emigration scheme was established, this time run by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which is an affiliate of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This led to about 260,000 people departing Japan, with the bulk of the emigrants leaving in the early postwar decades. As the Japanese economy powered forward, numbers dried up and the scheme effectively ground to a complete halt in the early nineties.***

The expanding Japanese economy in the eighties fueled a demand for low paid workers to do menial and unpleasant jobs. This labour vacuum was partially filled by the return of many emigrants and their descendants, particularly those from South America. To facilitate this influx, the Immigration Control Law was modified in 1990 to create a new residency status for these returnees, who were allowed into the country under a new ''settler'' category. Even after the economy came off the rails in the mid-nineties, most of these returnees stayed in Japan. It is estimated that there are currently about 300,000 such people living in the country. However, even after more than a decade of residing in Japan, which most consider to be their home, a lot of returnee emigrants and their descendants still feel a sense of alienation from mainstream society. ****

This regrettable situation complicates a potentially fruitful population policy option. Many returnee emigrants and their descendants often express a feeling of isolation from daily society. Until the government resolves this issue, it would not be practical to encourage more emigrants to return.

In recent years, many local governments have made great strides in their attempts to accommodate the returnees, but on a national level little has been done to help integrate these former Japanese citizens and their descendants into society. If national Japanese policymakers can escape from their current parochial mindset and adopt a more global perspective, Japan's rapidly developing demographic time bomb could be successfully defused. More returnee emigrants would not only have a positive influence on the population trend, but would also give the nation a truly global hue in a new global age.

Fact File on Emigration from Japan

The Annual Report of Statistics on Japanese Nationals Overseas produced by the Consular and Migration Affairs Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs provides the most reliable figures on emigration from Japan. The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which is an affiliate of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, also has statistics on the number of Japanese who officially emigrated under a government run scheme managed by JICA.

The Consular and Migration Affairs Department separate Japanese living overseas into long-stay and permanent residence categories. For 2001, the Department estimated that there were a total of 837,744 Japanese living abroad, of which 544,434 were counted as long-stay and 293,310 were recorded as having permanent residence status. In 2001, the most popular countries for Japanese living abroad were as follows: the United States (312,936), Brazil (73,492), China (53,357), the United Kingdom (51,896) and Australia (41,309).


References

* The Declining Birthrate in Japan: Part Five German Immigration Policy Comparisons


** The Declining Birthrate in Japan: Part Four Immigration Scenarios


*** Emigration
J. Sean Curtin, NBR'S JAPAN FORUM, Friday 3 January 2003


**** No Home Emigrants' Families Feel Left Out of Society
Paulo, Fujita, The Asahi Shimbun/International Herald Tribune, 24 December 2002


Complete Articles in the Declining Birthrate in Japan Series

The Declining Birthrate in Japan: Part One Numerical Targets for Childcare Leave
Social Trends: Series #17, GLOCOM Platform, 18 November 2002


The Declining Birthrate in Japan: Part Two Comments on the Proposed Numerical Targets for Childcare Leave
J. Sean Curtin, Len Schoppa, Social Trends: Series #18, GLOOCM Platform, 22 November 2002


The Declining Birthrate in Japan: Part Three Italy-Japan Comparisons
J. Sean Curtin, Richard J. Samuels, William T. Stonehill, Social Trends: Series #19, GLOCOM Platform, 11 December 2002


The Declining Birthrate in Japan: Part Four Immigration Scenarios
Social Trends: Series #20, GLOCOM Platform, 18 December 2002


The Declining Birthrate in Japan: Part Five German Immigration Policy Comparisons
Social Trends: Series #20, GLOCOM Platform, 24 December 2002

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