Japanese Governor: Accept More Foreigners to Combat Depopulation

Japanese Governor: Accept More Foreigners to Combat Depopulation

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Foreigners in Japan
Picture: ニングル / PIXTA(ピクスタ)
In a statement sure to generate controversy, the governor of Miyagi Prefecture says Japan needs immigrants to counter population decline.

Japan’s aging and decreasing population has been a vexing problem for years. However, good solutions have been few and far between. A governor of a Japanese prefecture has what’s sure to be a controversial suggestion: accept more foreign immigrants.

Murai Yoshihiro (村井嘉浩), the governor of Miyagi Prefecture in Japan’s Tohoku region, made the comments during a press conference on January 10th. While he noted that Japan already accepts immigrants through its technical trainee program and other avenues, he said this was only to fill gaps in the country’s workforce. He called for a more aggressive immigration program specifically intended to counter depopulation in the short term.

“With the declining birth rate, it’s important we don’t decrease the number of Japanese,” he told reporters. “But no matter what measures we take, it’ll be difficult to reign in the rate of decline immediately. Now’s the time to take bold action with the assumption that the population and birth rate will keep declining.”

Murai praised Prime Minister Kishida Fumio’s call for a “new kind of depopulation strategy” and his call to create a “child first” Japan.

“Germany is also facing declining birth rates, but thanks to immigration, their population isn’t declining,” he observed.

Immigration in Japan

Worker welding at a factory
Picture: Fast&Slow / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

Historically, immigration rates to Japan are lower than most other industrialized nations despite a relatively lax immigration policy for skilled workers. Immigrants only make up around 2% of Japan’s total population. In contrast, in the United States, immigrants account for around 15% of the populace.

The language barrier, Japan’s business culture, and stagnant real wages in Japan over the past three decades all play a part in low immigration rates.

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Murai’s call will likely generate resistance and controversy, particularly among Japan’s right-wing elements. Japan’s conservative wing already believes there are “too many foreigners” in Japan and accuse them online of bleeding Japan dry through public assistance programs. (Several major Japanese newspapers have worked to dispel this myth.)

As a result, as in other countries, some foreigners in Japan find themselves running up against age-old prejudices. In a recent case that made headlines, a Brazilian-Japanese woman was told to “go back home” when she filed for public assistance. Japan’s non-white residents report also struggling with discrimination compared to the country’s white immigrant population.

Some activists within Japan also charge that the country’s technical trainee program suffers from abuses. Participants say they are fired and sent home for various infractions, such as having a relationship or getting pregnant. A group of Japanese women recently rallied to the cause of a Vietnamese woman who was jailed for hiding the stillbirth of her twins for fear of being sent home.

Sources

村井知事「外国人をどんどん受け入れていくことも考えるタイミングだ」少子化・人口減少対策で持論展開「技能実習生受け入れの本音は労働力不足を補うこと」. TBS News Dig

岸田首相「異次元の少子化対策」発言に国民侃々諤々 泉明石市長は“ちんぷんかんぷん”と疑問呈する. Nikkan Gendai

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Jay Allen

Jay manages the technical writing practice for ercule, an SEO, content strategy and analytics firm. A lifelong geek, wordsmith, and language fanatic, he has level N1 certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT).

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