The Declining Birthrate in Japan:
Part Nine – METI Recommends Increasing the Number of Foreigners in Japan
J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM)
A full list of articles in this series can be found here.
At the beginning of July 2003, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) released its annual report. For the first time ever, it recommended that Japan should make greater efforts to increase its number of foreign workers. This it said would enable the country to achieve future economic growth and enhance global integration. This is quite a significant development as it shows that some Japanese policymakers have finally come to the conclusion that increased immigration offers a partial solution to various demographic problems facing the nation such as the declining birthrate and the rapid aging of the population.
The United Nations Population Division came to similar conclusions long ago and has over the years produced a wide range of models on the impact of various levels of immigration. For example, Japan's current population level could be stabilized with an average net increase of just 381, 000 immigrants per year starting from 2005.
However, the basic problem with this and most other United Nations models is that a yearly influx of 381, 000 immigrants would be unrealistic unless there is a radical change in Japanese public opinion about rises in the number of foreigners. At present, there is no evidence to suggest that any such shift is occurring. Furthermore, the media has done little, if anything, to foster the idea that immigration can be positive. Thus, unless the government launches an extensive media campaign to persuade people of the merits of immigration, implementing the kind of policies proposed by METI will be difficult, if not impossible.
Nevertheless, since Japan faces serious future economic difficulties due to its rapidly aging population, it is not inconceivable that the public could be persuaded to accept a yearly influx of about 381, 000 immigrants. This figure would probably gain even more acceptance if most of the newcomers were from nearby Asian countries, whose populations are currently expanding. Furthermore, as these countries' economic clout grows, they may exert pressure on Japan to accept more immigrant workers. In the future, it will be difficult for Japan to ignore the population trends of its neighbours, especially at a time when its own population is falling.
METI has laid the initial groundwork for considering new solutions to Japan's population imbalances, but its policy ideas will get nowhere unless the government itself is prepared to start an informed public debate on the issue. Whether or not the politicians have the courage to initiate such a debate will be a key factor in determining Japan's long-term economic health.
Other Articles in Declining Birthrate in Japan Series
The Declining Birthrate in Japan: Part Eight – Population Scenarios and Economic Consequences
Social Trends: Series #25, GLOCOM Platform, 28 January 2003
The Declining Birthrate in Japan: Part Seven – Debating the Influence of Immigration on the Birthrate
Social Trends: Series #23, GLOCOM Platform, 15 January 2003
The Declining Birthrate in Japan: Part Six – A Role for Returnee Emigrants
Social Trends: Series #22, GLOCOM Platform, 6 January 2003
The Declining Birthrate in Japan: Part Five – German Immigration Policy Comparisons
Social Trends: Series #21, GLOCOM Platform, 25 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 Three – Italy-Japan Comparisons
Social Trends: Series #19, GLOCOM Platform, 11 December 2002
The Declining Birthrate in Japan: Part Two – Comments on the Proposed Numerical Targets for Childcare Leave
Social Trends: Series #18, GLOCOM Platform, 25 November 2002
The Declining Birthrate in Japan: Part One – Numerical Targets for Childcare Leave
Social Trends: Series #17, GLOCOM Platform, 18 November 2002