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October 1999, Volume 6, Number 10

Japan's Foreign Population

With unemployment at 4.9 percent, some government officials and business leaders are pushing for reforms of the country's strict immigration policies. The Management and Coordination Agency forecasts that the overall workforce will peak at 69.1 million people in 2005, then fall to 68.3 million in 2010. A government advisory panel in July was careful to recommend only the immigration of skilled laborers, embracing "specialists and technicians" from overseas as part of its new ten-year economic plan. No mention was made of blue-collar foreign workers.

Hiroshi Okuda, chairman of Toyota Motor, said that the county should be "more open to immigrants." In Toyota City, there are thousands of foreign-born workers, most of them are ethnic Japanese born in Brazil --the descendants of Japanese who migrated to South America at the beginning of the 20th century.

However, a recent Economic Planning Agency survey found that 80 percent of Japanese do not want more foreign laborers admitted to the country. Most are concerned about job security, but the respondents also said that they feared immigration would make it harder to maintain social harmony.

Koichi Kato of the Liberal Democratic Party believes that the answer to Japan's labor shortage is to take the factories to the foreigners by relocating production facilities overseas.

The Japanese immigration bureau reported that the number of foreigners overstaying their visas was down 2,627 from six months ago. In May 1993, the number of overstayers peaked at 298,646, there were 286,421 in September 1999. The decline was attributed to high Japanese unemployment and stricter controls on foreigners working illegally in the country.

Chinese and Koreans living in Japan have complained that they have difficulty finding housing and that their visa applications receive closer scrutiny than other nationalities. Some say that the Japanese government has tried to copy the customs first of Europeans and then the Americans. As a result, the Japanese people have developed an attitude that whites are superior and other Asians are inferior. Japanese experts on racial stereotyping say that the Japanese tendency to blame crime on those from China and Korea reflects a mixture of fear and contempt that has been present since a failed Mongol invasion of Japan in the 15th century.

In 1998, a Japanese Maritime Safety Agency report found that 1,992 foreign ships conducted suspicious or illegal operations in Japan's territorial waters. The number of sightings of suspicious foreign ships increased 2.4 times the figure recorded for 1997. The report said the agency arrested 374 people on suspicion of violating the immigration and refugees law during the first six months of this year. The number was 43 more than that recorded for all of last year. Of those arrested this year, 86 percent were Chinese.

Howard W. French, "Long disdainful of foreigners, Japan blames them for crime," New York Times, September 30, 1999. Chester Dawson, "Japan's Growing Need for Foreign Workers," Dow Jones Newswires, September 29, 1999. "Fewer illegal immigrants in Japan," Yomiuri Shimbun, September 27, 1999. "Number of illegal foreign ships more than double," Kyodo News Service, September 14, 1999.