Michael Hoffman’s Oct. 21 article, “Only immigrants can save Japan,” quotes the founder and current executive director of the Japan Immigration Policy Institute, Hidenori Sakanaka, as saying that Japan “needs immigrants” and that a “new Japanese civilization will realize a multi-ethnic community.”
While I fully embrace Sakanaka’s wisdom in suggesting that Japan adopt a pro-immigrant policy, I am not sure whether Japan is ready to accommodate a multi-ethnic community. As a Singaporean who has lived among migrants from a multiplicity of countries (including Americans, Australians, Bangladeshi, British, Indians, Japanese and Malaysians), I would like to offer my two cents worth on this issue.
Singapore has been opening its door to foreign workers since the 1990s. To leverage foreign talent, the Singapore government has adopted a proactive stance in encouraging foreign workers into the country. As a result of that policy, Singapore is now a point of convergence for migrants from different countries.
At present, more than a million migrants from different professions — engineers, nurses, teachers, researchers businessmen, bankers, etc. — reside in Singapore. But because of the difficulties or reluctance of migrants to adopt English as their de facto working language in Singapore, there are concerns of increasing ethnic segregation along linguistic lines.
I believe that the majority of Japanese are likely to disagree with Sakanaka’s vision of a multi-ethnic Japan, because they are worried that regular contact with migrants could entrench group animosities, fears and competition pressures.
As an educator in Japan, I am often surprised by Japanese students’ inbuilt prejudice toward multi-ethnic societies. Many believe that more immigrants will result in new patterns of inequality, prejudice, segregation and social breakdown. But we cannot ignore the social and cognitive benefits that accrue from a highly diversified society.
In addition to supporting Japan’s economic growth and resolving problems associated with an aging population, an influx of talented migrant workers will enrich Japanese culture, provide strong work ethics and creative talents, and help broaden outlooks.
Government initiatives, such as the Ryugakusei 30 mannin Keikaku, have been projected to increase the number of international students in Japan to 300,000 by 2020.
With increasing globalization and migration, which characterize most societies, it will be difficult for Japan to maintain its ethno-linguistic homogenity. It will be interesting to see how Japanese society will evolve in the near future as it tries to cope with the challenges of maintaining a monoethnic identity while wrestling with issues such as an aging population and economic decline.
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.
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