Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Japan's Population Problem

I may have mentioned in the past that Japan is facing a impending economic collapse in the next 50 years or so if it doesn't get its act together. This is due to its measly birth rate and aging population. In 50 years or so, there will be too few workers to support the amount of Japanese retirees. Government officials and think tanks have been tossing around policy ideas for years, and have implemented programs encouraging foreign workers to (temporarily) come to Japan. These programs have been criticized, however, for providing little support for these foreign workers and for eventually trying to turn them out of the country.

Really Japan has two options if it wants to survive as a nation and remain a world power. The Japanese people can either have more babies, or the government can ease regulations on immigration. Neither seems to be happening. I understand Japan's desire to retain its cultural identity, which is deeply tied to its homogeneity. But is it better to die out than dilute the purity of Japanese culture?

Debito Arudou, author of and periodic contributor to The Japan Times, recently penned an article to weigh in on the topic. A solution to Japan's problems does not seem within reach at the moment.

Check out the article full here.

[...]One panel was particularly odd. Panelists concluded, of course, that Japan must do something to stop this demographic juggernaut. A deputy director general at Japan's National Institute of Population and Social Security Research even extrapolated that Japanese would be extinct by the year 3000! Yet the prospect of Japan's decimation was no match for the fear of the foreign element.

During the Q-and-A, I asked: "Sir, only briefly in your presentation do you mention letting foreigners into Japan as a possible solution. However, you depict the process not as 'immigration' (imin), but as the 'active use of the foreign working labor population' (gaikokujin rodoryoku jinko no katsuyo). Why this rhetoric?"

The speaker hedged a bit, suddenly asserting that Japan is now a crowded island society. To paraphrase, "Immigration is not an option for our country. Inflows must be strictly controlled for fear of overpopulation."

Afterward, one on one, I reconfirmed his intellectual disconnect. He further cited "a lack of national consensus" on the issue. When I asked if this was not a vicious circle (i.e. avoiding public discussion of the issue means no possible consensus), he gave a noncommittal answer. When I asked if "immigration" had become more of a political term than a scientific one, he begged off replying further.[...]


  1. Seems clear that Japan would rather die as pure as possible than live on as some salad-bowl society. One thing's for sure, and I think the Japanese are a bit more realistic on this one than most give them credit for, a sudden change in immigration policy allowing more foreigners into the country while attitudes of native Japanese go unchanged will only lead to serious social problems.

  2. True, but I would argue that those in charge aren't doing enough to change those attitudes. It's kind of a vicious circle, isn't it? If Japanese were more accustomed to foreigners, having more around probably wouldn't seem like such a big deal. But they will never become accustomed to us if we're present in such small numbers...

    Yeah, might be better for the government to launch some kind of fertility campaign. =P

  3. I don't see Japan ever increasing immigration. And I don't see birthrates ever increasing either. Their problems will continue to grow. I don't think relying on robots will make much of a difference. Their standard of living will slowly shrink. It is sad.