What have we here? An article brimming with enlightened attitudes toward immigration, from a monthly publication with "taboo" in its name. But being a magazine that thrives on controversy, Jitsuwa Bunka Tabuu's December issue, which went on sale Oct 16, has run a 4-page article titled, "How splendid the Japan of immigrants will become!"
The article even brushes aside concerns over a decline in public order due to the influx of foreigners -- a courageous statement considering that just a month ago, a 30-year-old Peruvian national was detained by police on suspicion of murdering six people in Kumagaya City, Saitama Prefecture.
It appears under the byline of "Kunihiko Date," a name that appears to have been spun off from the protagonist of a 1958 novel by the late thriller author Haruhiko Oyabu. Date points out efforts by the national government to make Japan more hospitable to immigrants is already well under way, with a law establishing "national strategic special zones" -- provided with incentives for foreigners to move here from overseas -- having been passed in December 2013. In addition to six zones in Tokyo and other major urban areas, three new zones have been subsequently designated in Miyagi, Aichi and Akita prefectures, increasing the total to nine.
While it assumed that most of the new arrivals would be from Asian countries, an increase in immigrants from European countries such as Greece, with its moribund economy, could not be ruled out.
Opponents to immigration, particularly political conservatives and members of right-wing groups, have argued that "Japan is a single ethnic group, it cannot easily absorb people from other cultures." These groups argue that an influx of foreigners will result in a decline in public order and negative impact on employment.
Date retorts that if one goes back far enough, Japanese themselves are a mixture of many different groups, including the Ainu in northern Honshu and Hokkaido and Ryukyu peoples in Okinawa. Over the millennia others have come here from mainland Asia and the Korean peninsula -- Chinese and Koreans. Indians and Mongolians, who intermixed from people from the south Pacific, such as Polynesians and Melanesians. From traditional rituals and festivals, anthropologists have pieced together a remarkable diversity of origins, which may also explain the Japanese propensity to worship multiple religions.
For the same reason, it's unlikely a terrorist incident such as the one that took place at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in France last January, would occur in Japan, because a more tolerant people are less inclined to discriminate other religions.
As far as immigrants affecting jobs, Date points to wage statistics for workers in the United States between 1990 and 2004, out of four categories, only one -- "high-school dropouts," saw a net decline in wages. The other three categories actually grew by an average of 1.8%.
The argument that trumps all others is that immigration is good for the economy. According to a government statistical projection of Japan's population issued in January 2012, if current trends are maintained, the population will decline from the 128.06 million in 2010 to 86.24 million by 2060, with people over age 65 accounting for 40% of the total. More worrisome, the working population -- regarded for statistical purposes as people between the ages of 15 and 64 --- dropping from 82 million to 44 million. And similar gloomy projections are in store for the agricultural sector.
The think tank at Nomura Securities has estimated that if Japan were to accept 100,000 immigrants annually, its income and expenditures 30 years hence would be in the black to the tune of 3.8 trillion yen. Since the annual number currently being contemplated is 200,000, a commensurate rise in economic benefits will be likely.
Date reminds readers that by 2025, due to the aging of Japan's huge demographic bump of postwar baby boomers, an additional 500,000 nurses and 1 million caregivers will be needed. The worker shortfall can only be made up from abroad.
Still, foreigners can contribute to the nation in many ways. Some may eventually wind up in uniform, serving in Japan's Self Defense Forces. Through intermarriage with Japanese, they will bring diversity not only to the nation's gene pool, but to its culture as well. Just as Americans have made pizza, pasta, bagels, tacos and oatmeal their own, Japan can expect changes to its food culture. And over time, its language as well.
One possible side effect of the new paradigm may be that minorities who were the targets of discrimination in the past, such as Koreans, will blend in to the point that the problem simply disappears.
Former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama was once heard to remark, "The Japanese archipelago is not the exclusive property of Japanese people." In the not too distant future, Hatoyama's remark may ring true in ways none of us could have imagined.© Japan Today