Do Japanese want immigrants in Japan

Immigration country Japan? - Immigration country Japan!

In the debate about the level of socially beneficial immigration, Japan is seen as a country that accepts almost no foreigners. But that's not the whole truth: there is a creeping immigration that is better to be denied.

It was very hot in Tokyo this summer. In a Konvini, as the 24-hour shops for daily needs are called here, I buy a can of beer. The girl - if you really want to, the young woman - behind the cash register asks me how old I am. I smile at her and say her question is flattering, but maybe a little redundant. No, she says, I have to press "Yes" on the screen next to the cash register to confirm that I am over eighteen, otherwise she will not be allowed to sell me the beer.

The older lady behind the neighboring cash register also smiles and explains with a slight bow that her young colleague is acting according to the letter. The young colleague who works here at the Konvini doesn't want to go wrong: she's Chinese.

According to statistics, there are about ten thousand Konvinis in Tokyo. They open and close, therefore “roughly”, but the density of shops is very high. Is there still a single one where no Chinese, Vietnamese or other foreigners work?

Not to be overlooked

The presence of foreigners in this low-wage sector is very noticeable. And not just in sales. They cannot be overlooked in construction or agriculture.

It is true that the proportion of foreigners in the population is still small compared to other OECD countries; but it is growing rapidly. Since 2013 alone, it has increased by 40 percent. The immediate neighbors from China and Taiwan make up the largest contingent of newcomers, followed by migrants from Vietnam, Thailand and Nepal.

Only young foreigners are allowed into the country to alleviate the labor shortage and no one is considering the possibility of them gaining a foothold and staying here.

Many are here with a so-called training visa. Ideally, they come to a large company, improve their qualifications and then go back to their home country. Ideally. Often, however, they work full-time for low wages without gaining any useful professional knowledge.

Enrolling in a language school is another way of getting into the country. The hopes of the "pupils" are, of course, often disappointed. Fees are high, as is the cost of living, forcing them to work illegally, go into debt, and enrich their crime statistics by staying in the country longer than their visa allows. Otherwise they will not be more guilty than others. You don't want to attract attention.

Immigration is a big issue in Japan. In fact, the conditions are somewhat reminiscent of Germany a generation or two ago: low birth rate, great affluence, lack of skilled workers, carers and those who do the dirty work.

Aging and population decline are advancing at great speed, so that the pull from within is now greater than the pressure from outside. The wage gap between Japan and neighboring countries has narrowed, but the country's labor shortage has not and that will not change for the time being.

Japan can therefore already be viewed as a country of immigration, says Koichi Fujishiro of Dai-ichi life insurance. Many, like the weekly newspaper “Tokyo Keizai”, prefer to speak of “hidden immigration” in a large supplement on the subject, because the government does not want to admit it for the time being.

The same mistakes as in Germany

Here, says Professor Goro Kimura of the renowned Sophia University in Tokyo, the same mistakes are made as the German government at the time: Only young foreigners are allowed into the country to alleviate the labor shortage, and no one considers the possibility of that they might want to gain a foothold here and stay. Is it guest workers, immigrants, immigrants?

How long could the conservative forces in the Federal Republic not bring themselves to use the word immigration without shuddering ?! Only now is the CDU talking to its coalition partner, the SPD, about modifying the state monopoly of restricting people's freedom of movement through an immigration law.

In Japan things are similar, only the external reasons for the change of heart are different. The clock is ticking here. The target is July 24, 2020, 667 days until the opening of the Olympic Games in Tokyo. A lot has to be done before then.

Four years ago, Prime Minister Abe decided to "let women shine," as he said, in order to keep Japan's economy going. Since only a small number of them are willing to build roads, stadiums and regatta courses, the door should now be opened a crack to migrant workers.

Whether the government will succeed in solving the pending economic problems with this step without creating new social problems is a question that is being considered a lot today.

In the meantime, I myself look forward to being asked about my age again when I buy a can of beer.

Florian Coulmas is Professor of Japanese Society at the University of Duisburg-Essen.