Foreigners in Japan and Where Do We Stand?

Where do we stand….How about some statics to get our numbers straight…

The number of foreigners in Japan has more than doubled over the past 15 years–rising from 886,000 in 1990 to over 2 million today. That adds up to 1.57 percent of the overall population. This number is small. So small do you think we should even matter? This number is so small even Western Europe and not to mention the United States or Canada have anything so minute in number. The United States adds 2 million immigrants to it’s population every 2 years at almost 1 million immigrants a year. But the figure of immigrants in Japan tells only part of the story…and it is rising.

The rise in the foreign population is taking place against the background of Japan’s demographic decline. As the population ages, native-born Japanese constitute a diminishing share of the work force. Meanwhile the number of marriages between Japanese and non-Japanese has been rising sharply. So-called international marriages made up 5.5 percent of the total in 2004 (the last year for which data are available).

The numbers also reveal a growing trend toward what one might call “genuine immigration.” For many decades, the only foreigners in Japan were ethnic Koreans, the vast majority of them born in the country but not automatically entitled to citizenship. In recent years, as they have either died out or increasingly opted for naturalization, their share of the total number of foreigners has been declining. Meanwhile, so-called permanent residents–foreign-born people who have chosen to live in Japan for the long term–are steadily growing.

The current rise in numbers show that immigrants, not generational foreigners, are now becoming the most common permanent residents in Japan, meaning they’re not going to leave. In fact, less than a decade ago half of the foreigners in Japan were born in Japan. Now it’s more like a quarter.

The naturalization process is complicated, but it only takes about 1 to 2 years to complete. When you compare this time to other countries such as America this process is quite short.

Yet, where does the average foreigner in Japan stand in these trouble economic times? There are many current labor issues. And the current trend of the temporary workforce in Japan has eroded any sense of loyalty or job security. How does one make it in a land that they have no bearing?

Does the aging society of Japan have in its realm of possibilities an open-door policy for foreigners?