Japan – once one of the world’s most homogenous societies – is starting to unwind its traditional opposition to large-scale immigration
Japan is one of the closest examples of a nation-state. And like Iceland, that is in part because the ocean historically has acted as a massive barrier to cultural diffusion and migration. Today though, modern transportation makes that barrier negligible. Cultural attitudes have continued to not favor international immigration but their declining population has forced a change towards the end of 2018 (see any of theses five articles from Washington Post, Japanese Times, Nippon.com, the Guardian, and the Diplomat).
Japan has traditionally been one on the countries most opposed to allowing large number of migrants into their country. The administration is still presenting themselves as tough on immigration; the 2018 policy change will allow semi-skilled workers to enter Japan for 5 years, but they cannot bring their family members with them, and they still must pass a Japanese-language exam. These shifts are not an abandonment of policies that seek to preserve cultural homogeneity, but they are also an acknowledgement of the demographic realities and struggles of a declining population.
Until 2018, Japanese policy only highly-skilled migrants were allowed in to Japan, with advantages given to those with Japanese ancestry. However, these stringent migration policies coupled with Japan’s declining birth rates meant that Japan’s population was declining substantially enough to negatively impact their economy. There were foreign workers filling in the gaps, but only 20% of those workers had functioning work visas under the old prohibitive system. This new policy is primarily aimed at replacing workers in sectors that are facing severe labor shortages, that are being classified as “semi-skilled workers.” The law is trying to walk a fine line, trying to bring in more workers to Japan while simultaneously making it very difficult still trying to make it very tough for these workers to settle permanently in Japan. This will have a significant impact on Japanese society, and in the near future, it’s cultural institutions.