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|Japan needs 17 million immigrints!|
|07/24/03 at 03:04:58|
|The New York Times|
July 24, 2003
Insular Japan Needs, but Resists, Immigration
By HOWARD W. FRENCH
HIMEJI, Japan — With their tidy suburban home here, a late-model Toyota in the driveway and two school-age children whose Japanese is indistinguishable from any native's, Akio Nakashima and his wife, Yoshie, are the perfect immigrants.
Though Vietnamese by origin, as fellow Asians they would be hard to pick out out in a crowd. Through years of diligent study they have mastered this country's difficult language. They even adopted Japanese names.
Outside the workplace, though, in 21 years in this country, where they arrived as boat people in 1982, the Nakashimas have never managed to make friends. Even that is a petty concern compared with the worry that troubles their sleep.
"As far as my life goes, it doesn't matter if I am Vietnamese or Japanese," said Mr. Nakashima, 36, an engineer at a tire factory. "My biggest worry is prejudice and discrimination against my children. We pay the same taxes as anyone else, but will our children be able to work for a big company, or get jobs as civil servants?"
Many economists and demographers here and abroad say Japan's success or failure in addressing the concerns of immigrants like the Nakashimas will go a long way toward determining whether this country remains an economic powerhouse or its population shrivels and the slow fade of its economy turns into a rout.
Japan is at the leading edge of a phenomenon that is beginning to strike many advanced countries: rapidly aging populations and dwindling fertility. The size of this country's work force peaked in 1998 and has since entered a decline that experts expect to accelerate.
By midcentury, demographers say, Japan will have 30 percent fewer people, and one million 100-year-olds. By then, 800,000 more people will die each year than are born. By century's end, the United Nations estimates, the present population of 120 million will be cut in half.
Better integration of women into the workplace may help in the short term, but experts say the only hope for stabilizing the population is large-scale immigration, sustained over many years.
Failing that, the consequences could include not only a scarcity of workers and falling demand, but also a collapse of the pension system as the tax base shrinks and the elderly population booms.
To stave off such a disaster, Japan would need 17 million new immigrants by 2050, according to a recent United Nations report. Other estimates have said Japan would need 400,000 new immigrants each year.
But Japan is the most tenaciously insular of all the world's top industrial countries, and deeply conservative notions about ethnic purity make it hard for even the experts here to envision large-scale immigration.
Seventeen million immigrants, as the United Nations forecasts, would represent 18 percent of the population in a country where immigrants now amount to only one percent.
Even that modest figure consists mostly of second- and third-generation Koreans and Chinese whose ancestors were brought to Japan when it maintained colonies on the Asian mainland. As the Nakashimas, from Vietnam, know all too well, even long-term immigrants face frequent discrimination and are not accepted as "real" Japanese.
"The kind of figures the demographers talk about are unimaginable for Japan," said Hiroshi Komai, a population expert at Tsukuba University. "In a quarter-century we have only absorbed one million immigrants.
"Societies have always risen and faded, and Japan will likely disappear and something else will take its place, but that's not such a problem. Greece and Rome disappeared too."
Mr. Komai's belief that Japan cannot absorb newcomers is free of the nativism that is common among members of the conservative political leadership. Rather, he insists, it grows out of a realistic appraisal of his country's social limitations, including those of its workplace culture and educational system.
English-language skills in Japan, for example, rank along with North Korea's among the worst in Asia, making it difficult to attract international talent to its universities.
Because of those issues and the society's insularity, Mr. Komai said, the country can probably absorb no more than 200,000 newcomers over the next decade — a far cry from what the experts say is needed.
The government appears to agree and has planned to encourage only a kind of "high end" immigration that would be limited to those with specialized knowledge or skills.
Many critics say even that strategy may fail, as Japan is increasingly incapable of competing for foreign brainpower, not only against the United States and Western Europe, but also against South Korea and China, which are seen as lands of far greater opportunity.
In a much noted recent speech, Hiroshi Okuda, president of the Japanese Business Federation, made an implicit appeal for broader immigration. "People stress the fruit of the I.T. revolution for the drastic economic advance of the United States during the 1990's," he said. "But we cannot overlook the fact that the influx of foreigners at a rate of a million per year supported this economic growth." The government's stated preference for highly skilled immigrants also runs up against tradition, which has always favored allowing small numbers of immigrants to perform dirty, dangerous and difficult jobs.
In those sectors, signs are multiplying that pragmatic thinking is beginning to win out, as small, mostly illegal communities of immigrants take root here and there.
Already the construction industry makes widespread use of immigrants, mostly from other Asian countries, to fill the most dangerous and low-paying jobs.
"We have already reached the point where the Japanese economy cannot function without foreign workers," said Mioko Honda, a leader of the two-year-old Union of Migrant Workers. "The construction companies use Thais and Filipinos by day, because they are inconspicuous, and Africans and others are used at night or in factory work."
The integration of even these workers has been less than perfect, and points to the challenges ahead. Mr. Honda's group was founded to help illegal foreign workers recover wages or benefits owed them by unscrupulous employers.
A visit to one of the union's offices, in Kawasaki, an industrial city near Tokyo, turned up a impressively varied group of immigrants — from Peru, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Bolivia.
As impressive were their problems and complaints. All said they had overstayed their visas, had been injured on the job and left to fend for themselves, or had not received wages promised them.
"When I had my accident on the job last December, my employer just dropped me off at the hospital," said Geronimo Lutsiang, 51, a Filipino who did demolition work on construction sites. "Since then he hasn't paid me any of the money he owes me. My right hand is useless now, and there's no way I can survive without work in Japan, the most expensive place in the world."
If the central government has yet to grapple with the issue, in the modest city of Himeji, where the Vietnamese community numbers about 1,000, the future is now.
Here in a cluster of five-story buildings on the edge of this city about 275 miles west of Tokyo live many of the Vietnamese immigrants who work nearby in the leather factories that were once the main employer of Japan's own untouchables, the burakumin.
Masahiro Iba, an official in the prefecture's public housing department, explained that relations were badly strained between Japanese and foreign residents of the city's low-rise apartment complexes.
"Integration is easy to call for, but it is very difficult to achieve," he said. "You just can't tell people that they must adjust to others." The Japanese residents complained that the Vietnamese parked their cars illegally, paid no heed to strict garbage dumping rules and often sang karaoke loudly late at night.
But a remedy was eventually worked out, through countless meetings and visits by city officials. The housing complexes have recently set an informal 10 percent limit on the numbers of Vietnamese in any one building — a tipping point, as it were.
"I've lived both before the war and after, so I've seen a lot," said Fusae Hirata, a 78-year-old widower, who is the president of the complex's elderly residents' association. "I try to be stern with people when they are doing something wrong, even if it means they will hate me, but I also give praise when things are done well.
"We are not refusing to take foreigners. We've all got the same red blood, and as long as we can communicate, things will be fine."
|Re: Japan needs 17 million immigrints!|
|07/24/03 at 22:00:05|
I feel sorry for immigrants who are targets of discrimination. Many countries and cultures discriminate against those who come looking for work from poor countries.
That is a scary thought that Japan will need that many immigrants.
And for the Vietnamese family who obtained Japanese names--Even though the writer of this article says that they would be hard to pick from a crowd, believe me, I can tell the difference between Japanese, Chinese,Thai, Phillippino,Vietnamese..etc... I'll bet most Japanese know they are Vietnamese with Japanese names trying to blend in. If you are around Asians a whole lot you would be able to tell also.
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