Japan Cabinet minister wary of opening ‘Pandora’s box’ of immigration

by and


Japan should fix its shrinking workforce by enabling women to work, before turning to the “Pandora’s box” of immigration, the country’s minister for the empowerment of women said in an interview last week.

Haruko Arimura, a 44-year-old mother of two, said Japan must act fast to change a trend that could otherwise see the workforce decline by almost half by 2060. But she warned if immigrants were mistreated — something she’d witnessed overseas — it raised the risk of creating resentment in their ranks.

“Many developed countries have experienced immigration,” she said in her Tokyo office. “The world has been shaken by immigrants who come into contact with extremist thinking like that of ISIL, bundle themselves in explosives and kill people indiscriminately in the country where they were brought up,” Arimura said, using one of the acronyms for Islamic State.

“If we want to preserve the character of the country and pass it on to our children and grandchildren in better shape, there are reforms we need to carry out now to protect those values.”

Some economists have urged the government to accept more foreigners to make up for a slide in the working age population. While Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has noted there is a need for workers from overseas to help with housework and care of the elderly, he’s promoted female workers instead — appointing Arimura to the new post last year to spearhead the effort.

Arimura, whose husband is from Malaysia, said more immigration could add to social tension. For example, she felt uneasy when she saw one of her husband’s relatives make an Indonesian nanny sleep on a hotel floor while family members slept in beds.

“It’s a matter of course over there, but it would be unthinkable in Japan,” she said. “It would build up dissatisfaction with society.”

Japan’s working-age population may fall as low as 44.2 million by 2060 from 81.7 million in 2010, according to a projections from the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research. At the same time, people aged 65 or over will rise to almost 40 percent of the population.

Relying only on women to make up the shortfall may be difficult, given that 1 in 3 wants to be a full-time housewife, according to a survey published by the government in 2013. About 60 percent leave their jobs when they have their first child.

Increased immigration poses its own challenges in Japan. Cultural barriers to outsiders are rooted in a two-century isolationist policy under the Tokugawa shogunate, which banned most immigration until 1853. A genre of writing called nihonjinron focuses on the theory that the Japanese are a unique people.

The number of registered foreign residents has been flat since 2006 at just over 2 million. That’s out of a population of about 127 million.

Public attitudes toward new arrivals may be changing. About 51 percent of Japanese support a more open immigration policy, according to a survey published by the Asahi newspaper last month. Some 34 percent oppose the idea.

“There are things we should do before we talk about that Pandora’s box,” Arimura said.

Her task is to convince voters that putting more women to work is the best solution. She said she realized the policy could cause confusion among backers of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, given its past support for traditional family arrangements.

The government has no intention of interfering with the “precious” lifestyles of women who want to devote themselves to their families, Arimura said. Instead, she said it wanted to support those who might otherwise be forced to abandon careers because of family responsibilities, or who wish to resume working after raising children.

Arimura described as “a good start” a new draft bill obliging employers with more than 300 staff to publish gender breakdown statistics and plans to promote women. While noncompliance carries no penalty, she said the legislation would give a picture of how women are faring at work and pointers on the problems they face.

While Abe wants women to fill 30 percent of management positions by 2020, he faces an uphill task. Women accounted for just over 8 percent of management positions in private-sector companies employing more than 100 people last year, according to government data.

“In terms of tackling the low birthrate and promoting women, the next five or 10 years will decide the trend for Japan, whether it goes up or down,” Arimura said. “In a way, it’s the last chance.”

  • JusenkyoGuide

    I must be missing something, if the problem is the rapidly aging workforce… wouldn’t the current population of women age just as fast as the men?

    Temporary boost is temporary.

  • Al_Martinez

    What a racist statement: equating immigrants with the evils of the world.

    • Jonathan Fields

      Time to reset the “days since Abe minister said something racist” calendar. How far did we make it this time? A few days?

  • Sumobob

    Minister’s position is all over the map so I don’t know where to begin. On the
    one hand the Arimura seems to show compassion and understanding for the plight
    of new immigrants being taken advantage of and marginalized in their new
    countries. But she couches her arguments in that classic passive-aggressive argument
    of “It would be terrible if A were to happen as a result of B” which
    has been used time and time again to read readers down the garden path to the
    inevitable stock answer “change will not be good for Japan.”

    states her shock of the treatment of a (presumably immigrant) nanny by her
    gaijin husband’s family in Indonesia (“Such a thing would be unthinkable
    in Japan!” – one wonders if she’s even vaguely aware of Japan’s
    “trainee” program) but then worries that immigrants to Japan might
    (if mistreated – didn’t she state that such a thing would be unthinkable here?)
    grow up resentful and want to indiscriminately kill people in their adopted

    So we
    get it. Immigration is scary and will be bad for Japan. So we should promote
    women in the workforce, but not make anything mandatory for government or the
    private sector. But either way, we’ll know the fate of Japan within the next
    five or ten years (even though we’ve basically concluded what will happen –


    • Liars N. Fools

      I think this is a pretty accurate translation of what Arimura was saying. And actually said more coherently.

    • Tatsujiro Kurogane

      Yes, nicely put. Couch your rather hysterical hyperbole in squishy platitudes that appeal to decent people’s Common Sense (aka ingrained ignorance), then go on to promote further platitudinous panacea for pressing problems. Now, a question: how does her argument qualify as Passive-Aggressive? I see that phrase used rather often but can never quite grasp it in these contexts. Just curious.

      Anyways, it goes without saying, I hope, that Japan needs to first mobilise its underemployed citizens. I would also suggest they look more closely at say, a Nordic model as a way to shrink into prosperous obscurity. Which is the polar opposite of Honest Abe’s and the Grumpy Grandpas’ delusions of imperial grandeur.

  • Paul Johnny Lynn

    So naturally she enters the conversation with a negative phrase : “Pandora’s Box”, because we know that foreigners are the cause of a country’s ills anywhere; (just ask Germans of the 1930’s); but especially in Japan, ね?

  • A.J. Sutter

    Speaking as an immigrant to Japan who isn’t of Japanese ancestry, I absolutely concur that expanding immigration should be pursued cautiously. Certainly it’s a bad idea to invite immigrants who come here solely for economic reasons, and who don’t feel loyalty to Japan or wish to make some sort of contribution to it: that creates tremendous social and political problems for the future.

    Japan has a way to go in reducing the barriers to building that loyalty, and perhaps even in perceiving it as a desirable goal. So there’s definitely a problem on the Japanese side, in addition to the question of immigrants’ motivations. But it would be dangerous to take the advice of many Western economics pundits and open the doors to migrants whose political loyalties lie elsewhere.

    The same holds true for ANY country — the mention of nihonjinron here is a red herring. The US became great because immigrants there, my grandparents among them, wanted to be Americans. Countries who take in “guest workers” and former colonial powers who have allowed people from former colonies to migrate for economic reasons don’t achieve the same sort of society, and see problems either from former colonial populations (e.g., French and British residents joining Daesh) or from a right-wing backlash against the immigrants (e.g., German violence against Turks and others).

    Given that some sort of armed confrontation with China seems at least 50-50 likely within the 21st Century, it would be pretty stupid, for example, to take in lots of economic immigrants from China who remain politically loyal to their home country. It would be stupid for the US or a number of other countries to do the same: no nihinjinron issue involved. But Japan should make it easier for people who sincerely want to be a part of Japan to do so, regardless of where they come from — including any such “special permanent residents” who may want to naturalize.

    Finally, as to women, making working life more flexible and economically stable for men is also necessary if Japan wants to see more families and kids. What’s needed are shorter working hours and a decent living wage for both parents.

    • Japanese Bull Fighter

      Speaking as a Japanese citizen (immigrant) who isn’t of Japanese ancestry, I second your statement.

  • Considering the many ills Japan as a nation is going through, opening ‘Pandora’s box’ sounds like a fair deal, as it can release hope into the equation. Some pointers for those in the Japanese Diet willing to pursue some serious immigration reform:

    1. Allow naturalization for any immigrant whom already owns, maintains, and pays for property on Japanese soil.
    2. Allow naturalization for any second-generation immigrants whom were born, raised, and currently living in Japan.
    3. Allow lax, but limited immigration from nations within the East Asian cultural sphere (preferably Taiwan and Vietnam).
    4. Allow any refugee from nations bordering the Pacific Ocean to claim asylum in Japan.

    • Japanese Bull Fighter

      Japan already allows naturalization more or less in line with your proposals. I myself am a naturalized Japanese.

      For people born in Japan, many of requirements for naturalization are relaxed. Last time I checked roughly two-thirds of those naturalizing had been born in Japan to either Korean or Chinese parents. Basically, if you were born and raised in Japan and are a native speaker of Japanese, you can naturalize just by submitting the paper work. There is no charge.

      Skilled immigrants are already permitted.

      No country allows unlimited asylum claims, not even countries that take in large numbers of immigrants take in everyone who claims to be a refugee. Check out the Australian case.

      • Jim Jimson

        You’re utterly misinformed about the Japanese naturalization being a “just submit the paperwork” affair.

        Shin Sugok is on record stating that she was denied Japanese citizenship simply for wanting to retain her name, and other such stories are common in the Zainichi community.

      • Japanese Bull Fighter

        I just went through naturalization and received citizenship on 28 September 2014 so my knowledge of the system is fairly current. The issue of names came up. It is no longer a requirement that you have a “Japanese sounding name” although I do because I took my wife’s surname.

        I checked on Shin Sugok. In a Japan Times article dated 2001 April 20 she was quoted as saying “she was told to change her name to one that sounded more Japanese when she applied for citizenship about 20 years ago.” That would make her experience circa 1981 or roughly 34 years ago.

        The idea that anyone would cite an experience from more than 30 years ago to assert how things are today is mind boggling. If you would do the most basic research, you find that the name requirement was dropped in the late 1980s.

        Before making any more ridiculous claims, I would suggest that you read Erin Aeran Chung, Immigration & Citizenship in Japan (Cambridge University Press, 2010). This is a detailed study by someone of Korean ethnicity of the Zainichi citizenship issue.

      • Jim Jimson

        Congratulations on getting your citizenship, Earl. Zainichi leaders would surely have had a much simpler time if they’d followed your lead and come to Japan as wealthy white men in the bubble era.

        Seriously though, the system isn’t “file and forget about it” when LIVING post-colonial subjects have been forced to repeatedly beg for the most basic legal protections, and rejected for things as trivial as traffic infractions.* The fact that there has been a moderate legal shift in the wake of the new 80s-era immigration does not erase the living history of the oppressed. Your experience in September 2014 is not more important than that of other minorities.

        It’s gross and disingenuous for you to use historically oppressed Chinese and Koreans in Japan as examples of the system’s fairness.

        (*Source: Shin Sugok’s lecture on the 90th anniversary of the Kanto Earthquake Korean Massacre. Sorry, I heard this in real life so Google won’t help you.)

      • Japanese Bull Fighter

        I’d have had an easier time too if I had come to Japan as a wealthy white man in the bubble era. In point of fact I was in California throughout the entire bubble era except for research trips to Japan funded by small grants from US entities. And, I don’t know where you get the idea I am on the Japanese government payroll. I’ve always worked in the private sector in Japan. Further, unless you are in medicine, academic salaries don’t put you even within sight of being wealthy.

        You are clearly as confused about me as you are about the mechanics of naturalization in contemporary Japan.

        If you check web sites dealing with US naturalization you will find that some vehicular violations may be an issue in a citizenship application. The UK has a “good character” requirement for naturalization that can be used to deny an application as well as a requirement that you have no recent arrests of any type as well as no serious criminal record.

        Further, the issue of traffic infractions is not specific to Zainichi. I was warned about this as well.

        Even if you attended Shin Sugok’s lecture in person yesterday, that will not alter the fact that she has stated that her experience was circa 1981. Moreover, if you look at the statistics on naturalization, you will see that Zainichi can and do in fact naturalize. This is one reason why the Zainichi population is shrinking. The Japanese census does not record ethnicity. Once you have naturalized you are Japanese with no hyphenated adjective.

      • In addition to naturalization, another reason the Zainichi population has massively shrunk disproportionately compared to the general population is intermarriage; especially because post-1985, it possible to inherit Japanese nationality at birth not just from the father’s nationality, but the mother’s as well. This next generation, product of marriages between Zainichi and Japanese, are more often than not choosing Japanese nationality.

      • Japanese Bull Fighter

        Just checked naturalization numbers. Between 1996 and 2013, roughly 155,000 people of ROK and DPRK nationality became Japanese citizens. The published data does not allow breaking this down between those born in Japan and those born elsewhere, but it is highly unlikely that there has been mass immigration from the DPRK.

        The most recent figures (2014) for tokubetsu eijusha, the category in which most Zainichi are found and a category made up almost entirely of Zainichi (and a few Taiwan Chinese) is roughly 360,000. In 2006, the number was around 443,000. Not all of this loss will be due to naturalization, but I have read nothing to indicate that Zainichi are bailing out of Japan for Korea or other countries in any significant numbers.

        In other words, it looks like it is fairly easy for Zainichi to naturalize and many have already done so. Perhaps Shin Sugok should resubmit her application. Chances are it will go through this time.

      • Japanese Bull Fighter

        “The fact that there has been a moderate legal shift in the wake of the new 80s-era immigration does not erase the living history of the oppressed.” Indeed. Just like the US. Just because there has been a moderate legal shift in the wake of the 60s civil rights movement, the US remains basically a slave society based on the most blatant and violent racial discrimination. No amount of legal shift will erase the living history of slavery in the US.

        Good to see we have a point of agreement.

  • Paul Martin

    Japan should treat all immigrants equally to Japanese. Japanese who live in other countries are treated fairly and with equal respect and dignity for work, housing and socially, the same cannot be said about gaijin here !

    • Japanese Bull Fighter

      Indeed, gaijin often get preferential treatment. That should be stopped.

      • Paul Martin

        Not my family and they are married to Japanese and my grand children are part Japanese. IT’s the bureaucrats in government departments especially immigration that discriminate NOT the average Japanese ! One day someone will take a detailed survey and you will see just how MOST gaijins feel !

      • Japanese Bull Fighter

        I would be interested in reading your experiences. I have some experience with immigration bureaucrats in the US and the UK. Some of them are very careful not to discriminate. They are nasty to everyone. Others do discriminate, usually in favor of whites but not always. I have found Japanese officials quite even handed but perhaps I’ve been lucky.

      • Paul Martin

        Immigration are always polite but the government says they are making it easier for foreigners to star business here and in reality NOTHING has really changed the forms are still the same.I am a foreign correspondent and radio SHOCKJOCK and former top British radio DJ in the US. check my blog about this:
        paul martin foreign correspondent. I also talk Worldwide on radio daily.MY bio is at: paul martin entrepreneur google.
        WE want to stay in Japan but it’s terribly hard to comply with the demands whereas Japanese find it much simpler elsewhere !

      • Japanese Bull Fighter

        That’s not what British academics tell me. In the last few years the British government has made it extremely hard to bring in foreign academics. For example, a Japanese academic specializing in Chinese studies at Nottingham was forced out because she had spent too many days in one year outside the UK doing her research (which cannot be done in the UK).

        Ordinary Brits with a foreign spouse have to prove they have a certain minimum income, something over 17,000 pounds. Otherwise, they cannot bring in their spouse. Immigration related fees in the UK are horrendous where as virtually everything in Japan is free or very nominal cost.

        The idiocy of current UK immigration policy is a regular subject in THES the trade publication for universities and faculty. Many articles on the subject have apeared in the mass oriented broadsheets as well.

      • Paul Martin

        Your correct about the crazy British bureaucratic paradoxical system ! That’s why we are expats.
        At the same time Britain lets asylum seekers, criminals, dirtbags,gypsies irish travellers and derelicts from all corners of the earth in !
        But America was VERY kind to Japan after the war, MacCarthur was like Santa to them much to their surprise and gave Japan billions to rebuild.
        The main point I am trying to make is that America protects Japan and allows them to dump billions of $ worth of Japanese products from cars to cameras,etc into the US market, tourists including Chinese spend Billions $ here annually and there are over 2 million gaijins here that do much of the work Japanese, especially today’s generation do NOT want to do and with the aging population rapidly disappearing all the more reason Japan should be enticing foreigners like other competitive Asian countries NOT discouraging them because of archaic cultural ethnic or nationalistic motives,etc !

  • J.P. Bunny

    Message from the government seems to be that women should be free to work as hard as men, unless it gets in the way of their “precious” lifestyle. Immigrants welcome as long as they realize they are here to clean up after us and take care of our elderly.

  • Minister in charge of administrative reform and gender equality Haruko Arimura’s anecdote about seeing an Indonesian relative’s nanny sleeping on a hotel floor sounds interesting, but it really isn’t. It only sounds that way. I think she’s trying but failing to make a relevant point within the scope of her government portfolio. But most of her comments seem to fail to reach that threshold. She’s just wagging her tongue with tripe.

    Three times the story issues vague warnings about social resentment, unease and dissatisfaction as possible trickle-down effects of increased immigration. Never mind that harmony, or wa, is a myth for starters and Japan is riddled with native disharmony, dissatisfaction and resentment. Maybe the addition of more foreigners would settle things down a bit. Japanese prisons are filled with Japanese felons, and statistically immigrants are more law abiding than the natives.

    Even so, the minister reflexively frames immigration as a crime issue, thereby demonstrating the tiger’s inability to change its stripes. I object to her premises. By repeating the standard Japanese excuse she dodges the opportunity and the burden of taking a sounder stand on matters. In ddition, her statement that “There are things we should do before we talk about” the Pandora’s box of immigration is insultingly disingenuous in the way that it carelessly ignores the fact that the current demographic situation was sufficiently predicted in the 1960s. The government has had over fifty years to plan and do what it “should” do, and it hasn’t. So be quiet!

  • I think there is a lingering notion among Japanese – a notion that continues to be exposed in Arimura’s remarks – that Japanese are vulnerable to dangerous foreigners, and that constitutes another reason to resist large scale immigration. But I find the opposite to be true. In Japan it is vulnerable foreigners who are endangered by, or suffer at the hands of dangerous Japanese. Japanese are sooooo dangerous!!!