October 29, 2003
The New York Times Says Japan Needs Immigrants. The Japanese Politely Disagree
By Jared Taylor
[Recently by Jared Taylor: Will America Take Up The New White Mans Burden?]
Japans post-World War II forty-year economic growth surge without immigration has always been an embarrassment to the immigration enthusiasts. In 1990, the then-Designated Enthusiast Economist Julian Simon was reduced to admitting: "How Japan gets along I don't know. But we may have to recognize that some countries are sui generis." [Click here for Peter Brimelows answer: technological innovation.]
More recently, Japans growth has slowed, although it still compares reasonably to Western Europe. But immigration enthusiasts are coming up with a new argument: with its falling birth rate and aging population, Japan will soon run out of workers.
The United Nations, which is staffed largely with Third-Worlders, loves to publish reports about how the West is withering away and can save itself only with immigration from, of course, the Third-World. Japan is another rich country the UN wants to help repopulate. If current trends continue, it says, there will be only 90 million Japanese by 2050. The Japanese government says the correct figure is about 103 million, but no one doubts the long-term trend is down. There will be fewer Japanese and more old people.
The New York Times recently carried a typically condescending article telling us that the question is "whether this country remains an economic powerhouse or its population shrivels and the slow fade of the Japanese economy turns into a rout." Quoting a UN study, the Times claimed Japan needs 17 million new immigrants by 2050 in order to "restore demographic equilibrium." The Japanese, suggested the article, will have to get over their dislike of foreigners and become multicultural - just like America! ["Insular Japan Needs, but Resists, Immigration," By HOWARD W. FRENCH, July 24, 2003]
Does Japan face a crisis? The current population is 126.6 million, the highest it has ever been, and is still slowly risingabout a tenth of a percent last year. In 2002 there were 1,152,000 births, so the Japanese are not exactly vanishing. Still, the average Japanese woman is now having only an estimated 1.3 children in her lifetime, so barring more births or immigration the population will eventually shrink.
The average Japanese reaction: "So what?" Japan is about the size of California but with the equivalent of nearly half the population of the United States crammed into it. A drop from today's 127 million to 100 million or even 75 million would make for a more comfortable number.
And even 75 million would be more than the current populations of Britain or France. The Swedes don't sit around feeling sorry for themselves because there are only nine million of them.
The alleged problem is not simply in the numbers, but in the age distributionthe prospect of lots of old people having to depend on a small labor force for their pensions. But this is not so daunting for Japan as for some other countries. Japanese have the quaint idea that the primary social support organization is the family. Their retirement programs are not as generous as in Europe, and require a smaller work force. For decades, Japanese have had high savings rates for just this reason: they look to their own resources. Although we Americans fancy ourselves "rugged individualists," we are more dependent than Japanese on government handouts.
Moreover, Japanese are healthier and live longer than we do, and more every year are working past retirement age. Japanese companies have begun to institutionalize a system of immediately rehiring their retired employees as contract workers at fewer hours and lower salaries. The company benefits from their experience and the employees stay active and in the workforce.
And there are many other things Japanese can do if labor really gets tight. Even with falling birth rates, more Japanese women stay home with children than in the West, and some of them could work. The agriculture and retail distribution sectors are still notoriously overmanned and could be rationalized. As a long-term measure, the government could directly subsidize child-bearing as some European governments do. This has not been very effective in Europe, but Japanese are more group-oriented than Europeans, and might respond to a serious more-babies-for-the-fatherland campaign.
Most Japanese are determined to find solutions that do not involve importing foreigners because they are deeply attached to their ancient, subtle culture. They believe that only native-born Japanese can understand or maintain it.
This conviction goes back centuries. In 1635, the Shogunate passed laws forbidding overseas travel, and cut off virtually all contact with the outside world. Japan might have stayed locked up tight as an oyster if Commodore Matthew Perry had not forcibly opened it in 1853. The Japanese remain convinced they are a unique, homogenous people with an island-nation mentality, unfathomable to outsiders.
Some years ago in Tokyo I recall leafing through a book whose title would be translated as "The Japanese Brain." It claimed the brains of Japanese process sounds and language differently from those of Europeans. I also recall a serious work on evolution called "From the Fossil Apes to the Japanese."
This almost biological sense of uniqueness has many consequences. Before the Second World War, Japan ruled Korea and Taiwan, and brought over a number of colonial subjects to work in Japan. Today, the second- and third-generation descendents of these workerswho speak fluent Japanese and are physically indistinguishable from Japaneseare not Japanese citizens. They are snubbed socially and have a hard time getting jobs. (This population must be borne in mind when considering the official count of immigrants at one percent of the population: one third to a half of those are Asians who were born in Japan, and speak Japanese as their first language.)
Japanese do not dislike foreignersthey sell cars and cameras to them very cheerfullybut they prefer familiar company. Apartment ads often say "no foreigners," and silence may settle on the neighborhood bar if outlanders walk in.
Public bath houses on the northern island of Hokkaido were in the news last year because they wouldn't let in foreigners. There was a stink about discrimination, and pro forma pledges of reform. The fact is, when Japanese take their clothes off for a soak, they'd rather be among their own kind.
So far as I know, it has never been reported in the press, but many of Japan's legal houses of prostitution are off-limits to non-Japanese, too. Maybe disappointed customers are too embarrassed to protest, but "soap lands," as they are called, have bouncersoften dressed in tuxedoswho make sure the girls do not have to grapple with uncouth foreigners.
Japanese who visit the United States are appalled by what they find here: ethnic politics, bilingual education, ballot papers in Chinese, racial preferences, interpreters in hospitals and courtrooms, jail-house race riots, foreign criminal gangs, etc. They wonder if millions of aging American whites can really count on blacks and browns to pay for their retirement. They have seen diversity in action, and they want none of it.
Of course, the profit motive ensures they are getting some of it. As in all rich countries, there are menial jobs natives don't want. Even with a limping economy, Japan is paradise compared to the rest of Asia. Millions would love to come, and just like Mexicans, they are willing to pay traffickers to get them into a country that works. Construction companies put illegal Africans and Middle-Easterners on the job at night and less obtrusive Asians during the day. The police are always breaking up sweatshops and fining employers.
The mostly Chinese networks that sprang up to handle the human traffic have branched out. Japan, which for generations considered itself the safest place on earth, is in the middle of a crime wave. From 1998 to 2002, robbery was up 104 percent, car theft 75 percent, purse snatching 48 percent, and burglary 42 percent. A general index of six serious crimes was up 75 percent. Japanese now even have surveillance cameras and neighborhood crime watches.
The politically incorrect Japanese are not shy about who's to blame. The media routinely run stories like "Number of Foreigners Arrested Jumps 13 Percent." In an interview earlier this year, Deputy Director of the National Police Agency Shinichiro Kuwahara said:
"Chinese criminals are making a fool of the Japanese criminal-judicial system. Even if they get arrested, they only get suspended sentences for the first offense and get deported. Then they come back with a forged passport and commit the same crime. Even if they get convicted, they can endure one or two years in prison, and in the meantime the money is transferred and their relatives build gorgeous houses with it."[Crime Rattles Japanese Calm, Attracting Politicians' Notice, September 6, 2003, New York Times, By Norimitsu Onishi]
Many American newspapers are notoriously too squeamish to describe crime suspects as black or Hispanic. But the Japanese media routinely report that the robber "looked Iranian or Iraqi" or "spoke broken Japanese with a Chinese accent."
Japan is a tightly-run country that does not yet have a broad underworld of legal and semi-legal aliens into which foreigners can disappear. If the authorities wanted to, they could clean up the immigrant problem. But deporting illegal aliens is (as usual) a matter of balancing growing public anger with industry's demand for cheap labor.
Nor is Japan entirely free of the let's-all-hold hands sentimentality of Western liberals. Lefty academics write earnest editorials about globalization, and the need for Japanese to open their hearts to foreigners. There are even a few fledgling advocacy groups for immigrants that try to make sure illegals get their wages before they are deported.
But perhaps the recent episode to best capture the Japanese mood was Mitsuo Fukumura's brush earlier this year with globalization. Mr. Fukumura is the mayor of a city on the island of Kyushu, close to South Korea. He preaches closer ties with Korea, and wanted to capitalize on what he thought was the goodwill generated by the joint Japanese-Korean-sponsored Soccer World cup of 2002. He proposed that Korean tourists be allowed into Japan without visas if they come through Kyushu.
The result was a huge anti-Korean, anti-foreigner backlash, with protestors swamping the local government. Not only do Mr. Fukumara's constituents not want more Koreans, many of them don't want any foreigners in Kyushu.
Mr. Fukumura's "Gateway to Asia" plan sank without a bubble.
Although such sentiments have been run out of respectable society in America, the Japanese actually like their country the way it is. They intend to keep Japan for the Japanese.
Jared Taylor (email him), the editor of American Renaissance, was born in Japan and speaks fluent Japanese. He is the author of Shadows of the Rising Sun: A Critical View of the Japanese Miracle.