To make a long story short, what follows below is a somewhat boring paper that I wrote on Japanese immigration policy. I wasn't really planning to post it to the internet, as I thought it wouldn't be interesting to anyone aside from undergraduate students trying to copy an essay on the subject. However, the contrived serendipity of the internet (i.e., google searches for related terms) drew my attention to the video below, and this made me aware of just how many misconceptions abound on this subject… and how wishful thinking may be misrepresenting the basic political facts.
So, to offer just a few points for those who don't have the patience to to read this (and I can't blame you),
- After the reforms of 1952, Japanese citizenship has indeed been defined in terms of "blood" (i.e., the legal principle of jus sanguinis), contrary to what Mira tells you in the video below. For some reason, people get confused and offended about this point (without actually reading what the essay, below, says about the 1952 reforms); many countries in Europe have jus sanguinis as a legal criterion, and this does not mean that absolutely zero new citizens are admitted, it is just a legal paradigm (contrasted to the one before it, 1947–1952).
- Yes, Japanese law does tightly restrict and discourage permanent migration, and even restricts temporary labor-migration (although the government is less restrictive now than it was in the 1960s, through a series of changes in policy discussed below).
- While the statistics do reflect Japan's (remarkable) history of discouraging immigration, the numbers are actually skewed by the bizarre legal treatment of Korean-Japanese and Brazilian-Japanese [日系人], who are labelled and counted under special categories. If you look at the bar-chart, above, Japan's apparent number of foreign residents is dramatically lower than Denmark, but the real number is lower still, roughly half of what it appears to be (as explained in the essay below, e.g., "Out of the census-total of 1,686,444 foreign residents (for the year 2000), we would therefore have come to a smaller estimate of 781,934 by excluding zainichi [在日] and nikkeijin [日系人]").
Read on for all the glorious charts, legal details and citations.
Japanese Migration Policy and the Lowest Common Denominator of Neoliberalism.
Is there an alternative to Neoliberal immigration policy? Does the postwar history of Japan offer an example of a country that took a decisively non-Neoliberal route? (A view supported by Bartram, 2000, and Meyers, 2000) Or is Japan merely the exception that proves the rule, by conforming to Neoliberal expectations in practice, while maintaining policies that fail to reflect the reality of their (licit and illicit, visible and invisible) migration problems? (A view supported by Shin, 2010)
If the globalization of labor is presumed to be inevitable, it is because, as Eytan Meyers, points out, "the sovereignty of the state with regard to immigration policy has declined" --an assumption that, he hastens to add, "is debatable". (Meyers, 2000, p. 1,247) Hiroshi Komai poses the question in terms of "The Theory of Unavoidability". (Komai, 1993, p. 247) Should it be regarded as inevitable that the liberalization of the trade of goods requires a liberalized "trade in people"? (Ibidem) Or is Japan's ongoing history of restricting migrant labor a case-study of what's possible if advanced economies refuse the general trend and develop the potential of their domestic labor-resources, to the exclusion of migrant workers? This paper looks at the development of Japanese migration policy (from the postwar period forward) with a view to answering these questions, both outlining and challenging a few of the key assumptions about Neoliberal migration policy.
§1. The Colonial Background.
In theory, Japan's Empire ceased to exist with a stroke of the pen, as soon as the surrender to U.S. forces was completed. In discussing migration, we're looking at one of the most complex (and difficult to know) areas of the unravelling of the empire, as people relocated in all directions (often repeatedly resettling) in response to the uncertainties and opportunities that emerged under various governments-of-occupation that divided Asia, while civil wars were still unfolding in Korea and China.
In very rough numbers, there were 2.3 million Koreans living in Japan in 1945, and perhaps 1.5 million returned to Korea at the end of the war; (Komai, 1993, p. 233) however, the Korean peninsula remained in an extremely unstable situation, and both legal and illegal returns to Japan ensued, in some unknown numbers, for years thereafter. Japan was concerned both with controlling the flow of people and with controlling the flow of potential or actual Communist revolutionaries, linked to what would eventually become North Korea (the D.P.R.K., established in 1948) and Communist China (the P.R.C., established in 1949).
The crucial piece of legislation in understanding this period was the Japanese Alien Registration Ordinance of May 2nd, 1947. (Shin, 2010, p. 333) Paradoxically, this ordinance granted Japanese citizenship to all of the former colonial subjects, while also classifying them as "Registered Aliens" within Japan. (Ibid.) The dominant ethnicity for this group is Korean, and many sources use the term zainichi [在日] as synonymous with Koreans-in-Japan, but some (unknown) percentage of people who received this legal status must have been from other areas of Asia occupied by the Japanese Empire. Even if we presume that the numbers of non-Korean people who received this legal status were very small (or that they mostly returned to their countries-of-origin, disappearing from the public perception of zainichi-politics) it is worth noting that they have become politically invisible in being subsumed in this legal category.
In 1952, the riddle of the "Alien Citizen" was solved: Japan reneged on its promise of granting citizenship to the zainichi. (Ibid., p. 334) This reform created an even more confusing category of permanent residents by special agreement [協定永住等] that endured in Japanese government statistics until 1992.
The clear purpose of this category, as defined from 1952 to 1992, was to indicate (in law) that these "aliens" (predominantly Korean) were expected to leave Japan, sooner or later. In creating and maintaining this category, there must have been many fine distinctions made between repatriated Japanese (sometimes born and raised in the colonies during the Empire, yet nevertheless "ethnically Japanese") and the various classes of people who were considered to be non-Japanese, even if they had been born, raised and educated in Japan; the single-category system created in 1947 does not admit that any such confusion could exist, yet it is seems to be a necessary inference that individual bureaucrats would have been dealing with the nuances of many such claims on a case-by-case basis (variously involving intermarriage, refugees, orphans, adoptions, and other peculiar circumstances of war). After 1952, Japanese citizenship was defined by blood (the legal principle of jus sanguinis (Meyers, 2000, p. 1,255)), and all non-citizen residents had to be fingerprinted, photographed, etc., and carry their alien registration card with them at all times, to present to authorities on demand. (Komai, 1993, p. 235)
Although this is a system with often-complained-about oppressive features, it has endured, to some extent, because of the Korean nationalism of many the zainichi themselves; many (certainly not all) consciously reject the possibility of becoming Japanese, and prefer the burden of carrying their alien resident card at all times (etc.), taking some degree of national pride in perpetuating their own status as nominal outsiders. (Komai, 1993, p. 243)
After 1992, everyone in this category was reassigned to a newly-created category of "Exceptional permanent residents", [特別永住者] defined as those who had formerly had Japanese citizenship (i.e., under the promise of 1947) but lost this status under subsequent "peace treaties". (Statistics Japan, no date, spreadsheet 2-40-b) In reality, this status is hereditary (i.e., the second and third generations born in Japan cannot really be described as "former" Japanese citizens at all, as they weren't alive during the 1947–1952 window-of-opportunity). Of course, despite the changes in nomenclature, there is a great deal of continuity from 1952 to present for these "exceptional" permanent residents. With the passage of time, however, they were increasingly assimilated into Japanese society:
By the late 1970s, most [of these] Koreans became acculturated and considered Japan as their permanent and only home. More than ninety-percent of these Koreans know only the Japanese language and many have never been to Korea. (Shin, 2010, p. 336)
In calling these people "permanent residents", Japan is concealing the fact that the category exists precisely to indicate that their presence is not permanent, but is supposedly an exceptional (and temporary) adjustment to the circumstances at the end of the war.
The interstitial status of this population is used by Shin (2010) to indicate that Japan had more of a reliance on foreign labor (during its decades of rapid economic growth) than may be commonly supposed, and also to illustrate the general (cultural and political) continuity of concepts governing foreign workers in Japan. However, quantitatively speaking, this semi-foreign population still does not add up to enough of the workforce to challenge the standard interpretation of Japan's (postwar) economic history as avoiding reliance on foreign labor: "Even if we include the non-citizen Korean population, foreign labor in Japan constitutes less than 1.5 of the Japanese labor force." (Bartram, 2000, p.6) This may seem, prima facie, to be a low estimate, given that there were 574,510 zainichi living in Japan in the year 2000. (Tamura, 2003, p. 89)
The (artificial) category created for the zainichi is demographically different from the categories used to measure foreign workers, and "normal" permanent residents. The zainichi include the elderly as well as small children, the employed along with the unemployed: they have, fundamentally, the same demographic features as the settled population of Japan. Indeed, the zainichi have a rapidly aging population comparable to the rest of Japan, (Tamura, 2003, p. 89) i.e., a high proportion of retired persons, corresponding to a low work-force participation-rate. Temporary foreign workers, by contrast, have an employment rate of 100%, as their visa status depends on it, and they can neither be too old to work, nor too young. Further, "the policy of conditional employment is based on the premise that workers come [to Japan] alone", i.e., without children or other family-relations. (Komai, 1993, p. 248) Even if the spouses or children of foreign workers do accompany them, these are recorded in separate visa-categories (i.e., they are not as counted as foreign workers per se). Although the zainichi may be an illustrative example for understanding Japanese attitudes toward foreign workers, they do not, in fact, function within the economy in the way that foreign workers or new immigrants do. Instead, they are --in effect-- a caste within Japanese society.
Working-age zainichi are now in the second, third or fourth generation born, raised and educated within Japan; their situation (in 2015) is not really comparable to "migrants" in any reasonable sense of the term (although it was, doubtless, comparable when the first generation of these zainichi families arrived, some as early as 1910). As such, the portion of the zainichi in the active labor force will be roughly the same as the portion of the Japanese population; this is not true of foreign laborers with permits linked to their employment, who will be nearly 100% actively participating in the economy.
Statistically, the matter is even more murky: although the zainichi have so many of the features of a permanent population within Japan, they continue to be recorded as newly arrived migrants when they exit and re-enter the country. Given that so many had links to nearby Korea, it isn't surprising that many of them exercised their right to leave Japan for a period of up to two years (without losing their legal status), a grace period extended to five years in 1991. (Komai, p. 237) In the chart, below-left, these re-entries show up as new "migrants" within the category of "Permanent Residet under Special Agreement"; so, confusingly, the increasing rate from 1970 to 1980 cannot be reliably interpreted as corresponding to more zainichi in the workforce during this period, rather, it is the same zainichi population crossing the border repeatedly, but being documented as "new" in order to perpetuate the legal fiction of their foreign-ness. Meanwhile, census data and the foreign registration records show only a fairly slow and steady increase in the Korean population during this same period (see chart below-right, reproduced from Tamura, 2003, p. 85).
The significance of the zainichi is not their quantitative impact on the Japanese economy, but their illustration of (1) peculiar continuities of cultural attitudes from the colonial past to the present, and (2) the uniquely Japanese definitions surrounding "foreignness" that continue to shape all political questions pertaining to migration. It would not be accurate to describe Japan's migration policy as "assimilationist", as the fundamental pattern established (since 1952) is one that never recognizes the foreign worker as assimilated, not even after three generations. The racism and general poor-treatment endured by the zainichi (described, e.g., by Komai, 1993, p. 237–241) may also be interpreted as a warning, in terms of Japan's limited ability to cope with a more cosmopolitan workforce in future.
§2. The Economic Background.
Starting in September of 1960, Japan's Prime Minister Ikeda Hayato [池田 勇人] adopted the "income doubling plan". (Gordon, 2014, p. 277) During the ensuing period of more than a decade, Japan's economic policy embraced the "virtuous circle" of rising wages (i.e., regarding this as a positive stimulus for other aspects of economic growth).
The total number of foreigners granted permanent resident status in 1960 was an astoundingly low 269, with a further 3,669 granted permanent resident status under "special agreements" [協定永住等] with former colonies, primarily Korea; for a sense of scale, the total for both of these categories taken together is still less than the number of diplomatic permits (4,224) issued in the same year. (Statistics Japan, no date, spreadsheet 2-40-a) In 1970, the numbers had increased dramatically, but still remained very small in absolute terms: 1,979 permanent residents, plus 30,663 under special agreements. The number of foreigners issued non-permanent work [商用] visas was also very low, but increasing in this period: only 2,429 in 1960, rising to 18,514 in 1970. (Ibid.)
The statistics affirm the often-casually-stated observation that this period of Japan's rapid economic development relied on internal migration, with very little participation from international migrant workers. "Usually," Bartram remarks, "the analysis [of this period] points out that surplus Japanese rural workers moved into the urban industrial sector, obviating any 'need' to import labor." (Bartram, 2000, p. 7) The rate of migration from one prefecture to another [都道府県間] increased from 1960 to 1970, then declining from its peak thereafter, as Japan exhausted its capacity to recruit urban labor from its rural population (see chart). (Statistics Japan, no date, spreadsheet 2-37-a) In the year 1970, the number of prefecture-to-prefecture migrants was 4,235,008; this declined to 2,813,464 in the year 2000, a change made more dramatic when measured as a percentile rate, as Japan's total population continued to increase during the decades of decreasing rural-to-urban mobility (see chart, below). (Ibid.)
We have another imperfect but interesting indicator provided by the Japanese government's tracking of total (legal) arrivals and departures. This records the arrival and departure of all foreign citizens with any legal visa status whatsoever, i.e., definitely including temporary visitors, along with workers and migrants of various kinds. The total number of departures exceeded arrivals in 1960, and then the difference between the two hovered close to zero for the years of strong growth in the 1960s; an increasing positive difference (i.e., more people staying than departing) coincided with the era of the (so-called) "Nixon shocks" in the early 1970s. (Statistics Japan, no date, calculated from spreadsheet 2-39) Although this statistic does not directly indicate rates of immigration, it does seem to approximate shifts between different eras in migration policy. In 1962 and 1963, the difference between arrivals and departures was (amazingly) less than 1,000; in 2002 the number of arrivals exceeded departures by 87,435, and in 2003 the difference was 103,930. (Ibid.) For a sense of relative scale, note that Komai uses the estimate of 280,000 undocumented workers in Japan in the early 1990s. (Komai, 1993, p. 251) These two numbers are doubtless linked, as "The general pattern for foreign workers is to enter Japan on tourist visas and then stay on…", i.e., the fact that more legal-tourists are arriving than departing will partly shadow the pattern of illegal immigration. Although the year-by-year variations may be due to various factors outside of the scope of this paper's consideration, the chart would seem to show a general contrast between an era of extremely low migration (of even temporary workers staying for more than one year), and an exponentially higher level of foreign presence considered normal in the 1990s.
Prior to 1973, the Japanese government considered and rejected the possibility of supplementing its economy with migrant labor. (Bartram, 2000, p. 9) The relative seclusion of the Japanese workforce was, ultimately, a political decision: the agricultural population (available to be "converted" into urban workers) was not dramatically greater than other advanced economies in the same period, (Ibid., p. 14) Japan was just unusually resolute in bringing this population into the cities, to the exclusion of foreign migrants (whereas France wanted to protect its agricultural workforce, in situ, and was open to supplying urban labor from abroad instead). (Ibid., p. 13)
The period of the Nixon shocks (1971–1973) was not the end of Japan's restrictive immigration policies (on the contrary, the charts, above, show a fairly cautious first step toward the levels of foreign workers that became normal in the 1990s). However, it was the end of the income doubling plan; from this point forward, the Japanese government believed it was in its interest, instead, to keep wages as low as possible, in order to be internationally competitive. This was much more than a change in slogans, it reflected a profoundly different approach to economic governance. Under the vaguely Keynesian and Fordist paradigm of the 1960s, rising wages were considered a good thing, but "The prestige of Keynesianism was lost as it could not effectively prevent, solve or analyze the great depression after 1973." (Itō, 2000, p. 46) By 1981, Japan had rejected "expansionary Keynesianism" entirely, to instead come into line with the then-new economic ideas associated with Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. (Ibid., p. 12–13) Privatization of state-owned enterprises was a major aspect of Neoliberalism in 1980s Japan, and while this was justified in terms making the country more competitive, one clear purpose was to achieve lower wages. (Ibid., p. 46–7) Generally, the slogan of the new era was for "rationalization", meaning lower wages and labor-market deregulation for more flexibility (with fewer benefits, and less powerful unions).
In terms of the Neoliberal norm, the admission of low-paid migrant workers (temporary or permanent) is one of the main devices governments can use to reduce rates of pay. Supplying "low-wage labor [acts] as a regulating valve for the economies in these core countries." (Komai, 1993, p. 247) Aside from coercion, union-busting, or directly lowering the salaries of state employees, contemporary governments have relatively few tools to force down domestic salaries, if that is understood to be the desired goal (to achieve international "competitiveness" in the cost of production, or, simply, to comply with the short-term interests of employers and industrialists as a political class). Immigration policy is, in the Neoliberal era, a method of creating and controlling the competition that drags down the cost of labor. So, once Japan had adopted the other values of Neoliberal market-rationalization, was it inevitable that the country would switch toward a policy of importing cheap labor?
§3. The Shift in Policy That Never Was.
Tsuda complains that the Japanese government "operates on the myth that it is an ethnically homogenous nation and is not and never was a country of immigration"; (Tsuda, 2004, p. 449) however, it would seem that this myth has come to define reality to a greater extent than critics of the status quo (like Tsuda and Shin) would like to admit. Although the charts show a relative increase in migrant labor to Japan over time, the absolute numbers are extremely low by any reasonable standard, and the appearance of a fundamental policy shift is created simply by comparison to the early 1960s, when the same figures were (astoundingly) close to zero.
Although the charts examined above showed increasing numbers of foreigners in Japan after 1973, and then more dramatic increases after 1985, the total numbers are still miniscule compared to what may be called the Neoliberal norm. The foreign population of Japan was merely 1.6% of the population in 2011. The comparable figure for the United States was 6.8%, and the United Kingdom was at 7.6% in the same year. Although Denmark is often referred to as a country with relatively restrictive policies on immigration (i.e., restrictive by European standards), they are only slightly lower than the U.S. at 6.4%. (O.E.C.D., 2015)
In fact, Japan's low rate has to be adjusted to be even lower, due to the (aforementioned) category of zainichi, who continue to be counted as "foreign", along with the further category of ethnically-Japanese migrants returned from Brazil (nikkeijin [日系人]). The Brazilian returnees numbered at about 330,000 in the year 2000, (Tsuda, 2004, p. 441) and the estimate for the zainichi was 574,510 in the same year. (Tamura, 2003, p. 89) Out of the census-total of 1,686,444 foreign residents (for the year 2000), we would therefore have come to a smaller estimate of 781,934 by excluding zainichi and nikkeijin. So, the 1.6% rate of foreign population (for 2011) is effectively "inflated" by the visa-status given to these aforementioned special categories of permanent residents.
These numbers are very small for a nation with a population of over 125 million, and they are not changed overmuch by accounting for undocumented (illegal) migrant labor, estimated in the 270,000–300,000 range in the early 2000s. (Tsuda, 2004, p. 445) The often-complained about loopholes in the visas granted for corporate "trainees" (i.e., allowing de facto unskilled labor, under the pretense of providing an education) also do not add up to much on a national scale, accounting for a total of only 36,199 residents in 2000, and at least some of these must be legitimate trainees. (Tsuda, 2004, p. 454)
Meyers concludes that the globalization of labor has not transpired because of the declining ability of the state to control immigration policy, but because of domestic political pressure to allow more migrant labor in countries that have done so. (Meyers, 2000, p. 1,268–9) In accordance with this theory, the seeming-inevitability of Neoliberal migration policies would be a pattern resulting from many different (developed, capitalist) nations responding in similar ways to demands from their respective business communities, generally advocating for access to cheaper, more flexible, readily-available employees. (Ibid., p. 1,257–60) Bartram's study affirms that Japan's government, also, faced pressure from business and industry to permit migrant workers as early as the 1960s and 1970s: "What many employers in fact wanted was that the government would allow them to import workers from abroad". (Bartram, 2000, p. 17) Despite the fact that the Japanese government itself wrote numerous reports recognizing the adverse economic effects of their low-immigration policy, they consistently made the political decision to minimize immigration, even during periods of acknowledged labor-shortage ("The government explicitly recognized that labor shortages would become a serious constraint on economic growth", Ibid., p. 16). As a case study for migration policy Japan demonstrates, first and foremost, the primacy of politics over economics.
On Japan's Ministry of Justice website, the English-language page explaining the second (and still current) Basic Plan for Immigration Control begins with a graphic showing the increasing total number of foreigners entering Japan. (Ministry of Justice, no date) Of course, simply due to increasing tourism and ease of travel, this chart presents the illusion of a tremendous increase in the number of "foreigners" arriving in Japan every year, exceeding four and a half million in 1998. In the text below this seemingly-impressive chart, we learn that a much more humble estimate of only 200,000 foreigners stay "over a medium to long term period" in any given year. (Ibid.) Even with the inclusion of the zainichi and nikkeijin as "foreigners", this report estimated the total number of foreigners as merely 0.2% of the labor force in 1997, (Ibid.) dramatically lower than any other advanced, industrial economy. Germany is listed at 9.1% in the same year, Denmark at 3.1%, and so on; the report admits, "The ratio in Japan is not high at all among advanced countries." (Ibid.) This government publication was part of the round of new reports and "control plans" for immigration in 1999–2000 that, Tsuda comments, admitted of no controversy, and provided no "discernible shift" from the policies of the decade before. (Tsuda, 2004, 450)
From the 1952 immigrant control act to the current (post-2000) legislation, there has been much more continuity than change. Japan remains steadfastly committed to the "highly restrictive" principles that (i) ideally, zero unskilled labor should be admitted, (ii) only highly-skilled workers should be admitted, and (iii) all foreigners are in Japan "temporarily" (Tsuda, 2004, 449–5). This last principle is still upheld even when the "foreigners" have been in Japan for three or four generations, as in the case of the zainichi.
In terms of the abstractions of Political Science, Japan has neither acted in its economic self-interest, nor has it acted in the interest of the business elites (who lobbied government in favor of access to cheap, migrant labor, as stated above). Instead, as Bartram suggests, Japan has been unique among wealthy, industrialized nations, in adopting large parts of the overall Neoliberal program while rejecting the globalization of labor. In the pages above, we've seen that the genealogy of this cluster of policies and political attitudes dates back to 1952, when the earlier promises of a more expansive and inclusive model of Japanese citizenship (in the aftermath of the empire) were rescinded. At that time, fear of Communist agitation (especially amongst Korean migrants) was a major motivating factor in elaborating these limits on citizenship into absolute deterrents to foreign labor of any kind; and, as we've seen above, the numbers of permanent residents and even business visas admitted to Japan in the early 1960s were remarkably close to zero.
As the decade of the 1960s was a period of tremendous economic growth and optimism, the Japanese government remained convinced that it could do what many other countries presumed they could not do in the decades that followed: they could exclude low-cost migrant labor, and still have rising rates of productivity, expanding export industries, and so on. The rationale for this strategy in the era of the income doubling plan was clear (i.e., excluding foreign workers would drive domestic wages higher, and this was considered a desirable policy-outcome at the time); however, it clearly ceased to make economic sense after about 1973, when the Japanese government reversed course, and was instead trying to keep the cost of labor low. So, whether we gloss this change in governing assumptions as a transition from Fordism to Post-Fordism, or as a transition from Keynesianism to Neoliberalism, the point is that the same migration policy endured, despite that change. From this period of the early 1970s, also, we have the first loosening of migration controls (through loopholes such as "trainee programs", allowing small numbers of foreign workers to be employed while learning new skills (Bartram, 2000, p. 17)); but, nevertheless, Japan's immigrant population has remained tiny, and the restrictive policies remain tight, even after all of the "loosening" from 1973 forward.
In explaining the general consistency of the pattern over the long term, Tsuda observes that immigration policymaking has been, "insensitive to economic pressures because it is dominated by the bureaucracy, with little active participation by the democratically elected Diet". (Tsuda, 2004, p 450) Tsuda also observes that smaller businesses, inept at lobbying government, would stand to benefit more from the arrival of (cheap) foreign labor, whereas Japan's largest corporations (that directly have the ear of government) have not seen it as being in their interest to admit foreign laborers. (Ibid., p. 451) We might add the suggestion that while bureaucracies rarely innovate, they do often try to reproduce prior periods of success; for Japan, the economic record of the 1960s has given the policies of that era the imprimatur of being wildly successful. Rationally or irrationally, Japan has tried to stick to the principles that guided them during what was, in fact, a unique period of rapid economic growth, with rural populations relocating to urban settings, and women entering the workforce (in large numbers) for the first time.
The policy shift that has seemed inevitable for so long could, finally, happen under the present leadership of Abe Shinzo. In 2014 The Japan Times reported that Abe was considering a fundamentally new policy on migration, but, in the same article, the Prime Minister is repeatedly quoted as stating that he is uncomfortable with the word "immigrant" itself, and that the new policy should not even be called, "an immigrant policy". (Yoshida, 2014) Instead, Abe insists that he will continue to uphold the (aforementioned) principle that all foreign workers are within Japan only temporarily, but he will consider easing the regulations on visas lasting three to five years, leaving the question undecided --for the moment-- of whether or not this will mean that Japan will (finally) begin to import unskilled workers (and not just small numbers of skilled professionals). The discomfort and apprehension of both the Prime Minister and the other experts interviewed in the article seems to leap off the page: the economic utility of increasing immigration is admitted, again and again, but the fear of foreign workers, and even of the basic concept of immigration itself, is pervasive. In addition to the whole history of colonialism, racaism and xenophobia, in part, too, I would suggest, this aversion results from Japan's memory of its past "economic miracle", and the awareness that near-zero immigration accompanied the period of the country's greatest economic vitality, even if it wasn't really the cause of that vitality.
As a case study, Japan challenges some of the "universal" assumptions of Neoliberalism and globalization. Although it has been many decades since it was fashionable to speak of imitating "The Japanese model", Japan actually does present a fundamentally different model of how an industrialized economy can operate, precisely because it has done so without reliance on migrant labor. Under the Neoliberal paradigm, countries like Canada, United States and England have come to accept (i) current account deficits and (ii) massive "flexibility" and mobility of labor, whereas Japan has basically pursued the inverse, (i) massive current account surpluses, and (ii) a less flexible labor force, with extremely little migrant labor and immigration.
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Yoshida, Reiji. 2014. "Success of ‘Abenomics’ hinges on immigration policy", in: The Japan Times, May 8th, 2014. Available online (as accessed in March, 2015): http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/05/18/national/success-abenomics-hinges-immigration-policy/