Japan fails to cope with its declining population

The Orange County Register WORLD

Tuesday, March 14, 2000

IMMIGRATION: The Nation’s low birth rate and a disdain for outsiders could jeopardize living standards.


The New York Times

TOKYO—With its population shrinking faster than any other nation’s, government experts, demographers and economists say, the only way for Japan to maintain its lofty living standards is to quickly begin accepting immigrants in far greater numbers and to abandon the age-old comfort of its near-uniform ethnicity.

But despite Japan's coming demographic crisis, which will affect everything from financing pensions for the world’s oldest population to supplying workers to crucial manufacturing industries, any discussion of remedies quickly collides with a deep-seated resistance to accepting outsiders.

The population is projected to decline 17 percent by 2050, from 127 million to 105 million, according to U.N. estimates To maintain a steady population, on average, Japanese women would have to give birth to 2.08 children. But in 1998, the last year for which such

information is available, the childbearing average stood at 1.38 per woman. What is worse, the rapid aging of Japan’s people will further accelerate the population decline as there will be fewer women of childbearing age. Already, industries such as elderly care, hospital work and the lowest-paying farming and manufacturing jobs are struggling to find enough workers to keep up with demand. But still, as many as 80 percent of the respondents in a recent national poll said they oppose allowing any more immigrants into the country. Most invoke Japan’s historically high unemployment rate in opposing more immigrants. But, experts say there is far more involved—above all, a tradition of insularity that openly regards most foreigners, particularly Asians, with disdain. Japan was, in fact, an officially closed country between 1639 and 1854, with no immigration or foreign travel allowed, on penalty of death. Since then, the country has scarcely opened. The largest influx of foreigners was the arrival of thousands of Koreans brought to Japan to work or fight on its behalf during Japan’s 35-year annexation of Korea early this century. And even after several generations here, these Koreans have never been truly accepted. In Japan, lock companies appeal to racial fear in advertisements that bluntly link crime to foreigners. Most real estate companies openly refuse to take foreign clients. Banks often refuse to lend to foreigners. And many places of entertainment, from pachinko parlors to bars to hot baths, maintain a Japanese only policy.