My first Labor Pains column of the new fiscal year will look at the government's recent proposal for bringing in foreign workers.

Various proposals on easing immigration restrictions for foreign workers have been bandied about in recent years, but they were inevitably scrapped because "Japan is but a tiny island nation." (In fact, Japan is the fifth-largest island nation in the world, after Australia, Indonesia, Madagascar and Papua New Guinea.) Incidentally, there are currently 2.03 million foreign residents and more than 700,000 foreign workers in Japan, so the country is already quite multinational and multiethnic in composition.

Discussion on this topic was reignited earlier this year by a Jan. 3 Kyodo News report headlined, "Government aims to increase hiring of foreign construction workers to make up for labor shortfalls ahead of 2020 Olympic Games." The article went on to say that the ruling Liberal Democratic Party is considering whether to expand the use of ginō jisshūsei, or technical interns, from Vietnam and other Asian countries to meet the construction rush ahead of the games. Reading this article sent a shiver down my spine and spoiled my new-calendar-year mood.