Sunday, May 11, 2008

Japanese Population Decline 4 - Immigration



Japanese people are not stupid.  They know the crippling effect that population decline will have on their domestic economy.  They know that in the face of a globalized economy, rapidly aging population, and loss of innovation they need to open their doors to a wave of immigrants.  They know the United States and Western Europe are cherry-picking the best global talent leaving Japan more and more uncompetitive. 

They know all that but they're comfortable, they're happy, and that's exactly the problem. 

From my experience, the Japanese-as-racist perception of the outside world is exaggerated.  The Japanese are insular but that is a very different thing.  The thing that I would say makes Japanese people unique is their deep curiosity for other cultures.  Perhaps it is no coincidence but I perceive the same from the English.  Both are island nations that have a clear idea where the boundaries of their own civilization end.  And so, Japanese and Brits have a long history of importing knowledge from other cultures and exporting it as its own.  Case in point, the British and the Japanese have their tea but it's India and China that provided the leaves.

What can be done about it?

There is every reason to believe that Japan could accommodate, adapt, and incorporate a large influx of foreign-born talent into their economy.  Although easy to say, politically it's next to impossible.  Such broad sweeping change is unlikely in a political system in Japan that is beholden to vested interests such as construction, agriculture, and shipping which would be adversely effected by such policies.  The Japanese people need a sense of urgency, but their contentment with the way things are precludes action. 

Japan has had other periods of insularity of course.  For 200 years they had been a dormant feudal society with sparse trading going on with the Portuguese.  Commodore Perry's black ships changed all that in 1853.  An American armed with engines and guns shamed the Japanese who battled with horses and bows.  After that Japan modernized.  It became the superpower everyone came to know in World War II.  After 1853 nothing has been the same. 

For better, or worse Japan needs the black ships once again.  This concludes my series on Japanese population decline.  Hope people liked it!

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