What Does Japan Think About Its Foreigner Population?

What Does Japan Think About Its Foreigner Population?

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Picture: Undrey / PIXTA(ピクスタ)
A survey released earlier this year reveals what Japanese citizens think about increased immigration - and shows a substantial split by age.

More foreigners are coming to Japan as tourists – but more are also moving here and calling Japan home. How does that sit with Japanese citizens? A new analysis of data from the Japanese government shows that, while Japan’s older population is resistant, its younger citizens don’t seem to mind as much.

An age split in foreigner acceptance

Japan saw a record three million tourists come to the country in March 2024. That flood hasn’t abated since.

Along with tourism, Japan’s foreign population is increasing. With immigration restrictions fully lifted in 2023, Japan saw a 10.9% increase in foreign residents for a total of 3,410,922 people. That number is likely to increase, as Japan’s government is considering opening four new work categories for foreigners who wish to work here.

With that increase, it’s fair to ask: what do Japanese citizens think about their country’s shifting demographics?

The data, analyzed by Nikkei, isn’t new. Japan’s Immigration Services Agency ran they survey in 2023, asking 10,000 Japanese citizens age 18 and older what they thought about the rise in foreigners in Japan. The government received 4,424 replies and published the results in March 2024. The goal was to assess current attitudes towards foreigners and to find ways to increase understanding and cooperation between citizens and Japan’s foreign residents.

The top-level takeaway is that 28.7% of people think the increase is a good or somewhat good thing. 47.3% are indifferent (“can’t say whether it’s good or bad”). Only 23.5% think it’s a negative development.

What Japanese citizens think about the increase of foreigners in Japanese society
Source: Japan Immigration Services Agency

However, Nikkei ran the raw data and found that, the older the respondent, the less welcoming they were. 18- and 19-year-olds were the most welcoming, with over half thinking it’s a good thing. Approval numbers stay above 30% until age 44. After age 44, the number who are either noncommittal or think it’s a bad thing comprises well over half of respondents.

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In other words, the older and more fixed in their ways people are, the less likely they are to welcome foreigners warmly into their neighborhoods. That’s bad news, given that Japan’s population isn’t getting any younger.

Few opportunities for contact with foreigners

Other top-line data from the survey paint an interesting picture. While many people in Japan recognize that the number of foreigners here is increasing, few say they have an opportunity to interact with foreign residents in their daily lives. A full 41.5% of respondents say they have no foreign friends and don’t interact with foreigners. When asked why, the predominant reason, at 73.5%, was that they had no opportunity to get to know foreign residents.

Survey asking Japanese citizens if they know foreigners and if not, why not
Source: Japan Immigration Services Agency

Not surprisingly, according to Nikkei, over half of Japanese citizens 60 and over say they have little opportunity to get to know foreigners. Since many in this age bracket are retired, the number of opportunities for them to interact with foreigners is markedly reduced.

ISA asked people what they thought the benefits and drawbacks of more foreigners living in Japan would be. On the plus side, 67.7% think it’ll increase opportunities to speak non-Japanese languages and learn about other cultures. 67.5% think it’ll increase interest among Japanese people in other countries. On the downside, over 70% think (26.5%) or somewhat think (44.4%) that it’ll lead to more misunderstandings around Japanese culture and customs.

The benefits and drawbacks of more foreigners in Japan

In a spot of good news, Japanese people don’t generally think foreigners are here to “take their jobs.” Only 24.4% think an increase in foreigners will lead to fewer jobs for Japanese citizens, while 66% think it won’t. This isn’t surprising, as Japan’s chronic labor shortage is a recurring subject in the news. However, it’s a refreshing change from anti-immigration rhetoric in other countries, such as the United States.

ISA also asked what Japan could do, as a society, to decrease discrimination and prejudice against its foreign residents. 58.6% said the answer was to give Japanese people more opportunities to meet and befriend foreign residents. 48% said better education was the answer, while 32.4% endorsed providing better mechanisms for foreign residents to consult someone when they encounter prejudice.

Survey question: What's the bets way to decrease discrimination and prejudice in Japan?

Sources

外国人受け入れ、若者は肯定的 入管庁が日本人初調査. Nikkei

外国人との共生に関する意識調査(日本人対象). Japan Immigration Services Agency

令和5年末現在における在留外国人数について. Japan Immigration Services Agency

外国人労働者受け入れ 「特定技能」に4分野の追加検討 政府. NHK

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Jay Allen

Jay is a resident of Tokyo where he works as a reporter for Unseen Japan and as a technial writer. A lifelong geek, wordsmith, and language fanatic, he has level N1 certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) and is fervently working on his Kanji Kentei Level 2 certification.

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