Japan must become ‘immigration powerhouse’

The size of a country’s population is a fundamental element of its government, economy and society. If the population keeps shrinking, it is self-evident that the nation’s strength will wane, the economy will shrink and the survival of society will be threatened.

Three elements contribute to demographic changes: births, deaths and migration across national borders.

In the face of Japan’s population problem, the government has focused on measures for boosting the birthrate. Huge sums of money have been poured into programs such as child allowances to help people raise children.

But will the nation’s population start growing just by continuing with these measures?

My view is that a low birthrate is unavoidable as a civilization matures.

Other industrially advanced countries have also turned into societies with low birthrates as they have matured. Advancements in education, increased urbanization, the empowerment of women and diversification of lifestyles also exemplify the maturity of a society.

Japan, a mature civilization, should expect to experience a low birthrate for at least the foreseeable future.

Even if the government’s measures succeed in increasing the birthrate sharply and cause the population to increase, any era of population growth is far away and will be preceded by a stage of “few births and few deaths,” where there are declines in both birth and mortality rates.

Accordingly, the only long-term solution for alleviating the nation’s population crisis is a government policy of accepting immigrants. Promotion of an effective immigration policy will produce an effect in a far shorter time period than steps taken to raise the nation’s birthrate.

We, the Japan Immigration Policy Institute, propose that Japan accept 10 million immigrants over the next 50 years.

We believe that to effectively cope with a crisis that threatens the nation’s existence, Japan must become an “immigration powerhouse” by letting manpower from around the world enter the country.

By allowing people from a wide variety of racial and cultural backgrounds to mingle together, a new breed of culture, creativity and energy will arise, which will surely renew and revitalize Japan.

If this proposal is implemented, the 10 million immigrants, most of whom will be young workers, will lessen the burden on young Japanese in funding social welfare programs for the elderly. The new immigrants will be “comrades,” not competitors in tackling the challenges of a graying society and a declining population.

Young Japanese workers will need to join forces with the immigrants to weather these difficulties.

Encouraging the acceptance of immigrants will not only help Japan out of the population crisis. The immigrants will also serve as a driving force in converting this homogenous and uniform society into one teeming with diversity, where a galaxy of talented people will interact to create a vigorous multiethnic society.

It also must be clearly stated that if Japan hopes to benefit by throwing its doors open to immigrants, it must become a place where immigrants have sufficient opportunity to fulfill their dreams.

Analysts at home and abroad have often declared the “sinking of Japan” because of its passivity over reform, but there can be no denying that transforming Japan into an immigration powerhouse should be the ultimate goal of any reform agenda.

If this country dares to implement the immigration policy we envision, the world will surely welcome the opening of this country’s doors to immigrants as a “revolution of Japan.” This, I believe, will boost the presence of the nation in the international community.

This is the “making of a new nation” that could develop into a change as radical as the Meiji Restoration.

The grand, revolutionary task of transforming Japan cannot be achieved without ambitious men and women in their 20s and early 30s, people like Sakamoto Ryoma and Takasugi Shinsaku at the end of the Edo period (1603-1867).

With this in mind, I plan to establish a school in July for young people to discuss what a desirable immigration policy should entail.

I hope this will help foster leaders for the Heisei era (1989- ) that will carve out a future for Japan.

Sakanaka, former head of the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau, is executive director of the Japan Immigration Policy Institute.