National

Emigration — not immigration — one of top Japanese concerns amid shrinking population: Pew poll

by Jesse Johnson

Staff Writer

As Japan grapples with the problem of an aging and shrinking population — and whether to allow in an influx of immigrants — a survey published Tuesday has revealed that the public is apparently more concerned about emigration, or how many people choose to leave Japan, than immigration.

The public opinion poll, conducted by the Washington-based Pew Research Center from May 24 to June 19 among 1,016 respondents in Japan, focused on views of immigration, the state of democracy and the nation’s economic outlook.

With Japan’s population of 127 million expected to shrink to 88 million by 2065, many Japanese appear unsettled by the perceived balance between emigration and immigration, the survey has shown.

It found that roughly 6 in 10 Japanese, 58 percent, said that people leaving their country for jobs in other nations is a problem. At the same time, an identical share believes the government should keep immigration at its current level. Just 23 percent think Japan should let in more immigrants, while 13 percent want fewer entrants from abroad. It also found that despite a reluctance to boost immigration numbers, this does not appear to reflect public animus toward immigrants.

Rather, the poll noted, some 75 percent of those surveyed said they believe immigrants want to adopt Japanese customs and way of life, with 59 percent saying they think immigrants make the country stronger because of their work and talents. Majorities also said they do not fear that immigrants are responsible for an increased risk of terrorism or more crime. “These opinions reflect a near-complete reversal from attitudes on the same question in 2002,” the survey said.

The results come as the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pushing for legislation to allow migrants to begin filling vacancies from next April in sectors worst hit by the country’s dwindling population.

This plan has attracted considerable attention from both proponents, who say it will help alleviate looming economic crises, and from opponents, who are concerned about pay and conditions for Japanese workers, as well as potential problems in their communities caused by foreign nationals with different cultural backgrounds.On the economic front, the survey said that while more Japanese feel better about the economy than at any point in nearly two decades, the overall mood in Japan remains wary, if not pessimistic, with few believing the next generation will fare better than them.

Although positive views were up 34 percentage points since the early days of the global financial crisis in 2009, just 44 percent said the current economic situation in Japan is good, while 55 percent called conditions bad. Additionally, some 4 in 10 Japanese, 41 percent, think average people today are worse off financially than they were 20 years ago, the tail end of the country’s “lost decade.” A mere 26 percent said they are better off.

At the same time, just 15 percent of those surveyed said children in the country today will grow up to be better off financially than their parents, while 76 percent expect they will be worse off. “That is among the lowest level of optimism about the next generation’s prospects among the 27 nations Pew Research Center surveyed in 2018,” the survey noted in a synopsis.

It pointed, in part, to growing concerns about automation, with nearly 9 in 10 members of the public — some 89 percent — believing that in the next 50 years robots and computers will do much of the work currently done by humans.

And they don’t foresee that work environment as necessarily positive. More than 8 in 10 — 83 percent — fear that such automation will lead to a worsening of inequality between rich and poor, while more than 7 in 10, some 74 percent, think ordinary people will have a hard time finding jobs.

The poll also found that just 40 percent of the public is satisfied with the way democracy is working in Japan — down 10 percentage points since last year. More than half said they see politicians as corrupt, caring little about ordinary people, and believe elections ultimately do not change much.

But the public also credits Japanese governance with producing a free, just and safe society, including 7 in 10 who believe most people live in safe neighborhoods.