No, Japan's Actually Not A Xenophobic Country

(MENAFN- Asia Times) The other day at a fundraiser, Joe Biden made a casual comment that I consider to be the worst gaffe of his entire term as president. He declared that two of America's most important allies, India and Japan, are“xenophobic”, and placed them in the same category as Russia and China:

From a diplomatic standpoint, this was extremely stupid since it insults our allies while gaining absolutely nothing. It's also a little hypocritical, given that Biden just vowed to block a Japanese steel company from acquiring US Steel on incredibly flimsy pretexts - not to mention all the restrictive measures Biden has taken towards immigration over the course of his presidency in order to appease the US public. Glass houses, etc.

The White House should have walked the comment back and apologized, but instead it defended the remark , saying it was part of a“broader point.” The fact that even a Democratic administration can so casually insult key allies should make us a little more pessimistic about the US' ability to assemble a global coalition of democracies in the decades to come.

But beyond the diplomatic stupidity of the remark, it's just not factually true. I don't know enough about India to make a judgment, but I do know a fair amount about Japan, and the common trope that it's a xenophobic country that doesn't want immigrants is just provably false.

First, I think we should define our standards here. Every country has some element of xenophobia within its populace. And every country has some additional wariness of large-scale immigration that doesn't rise to the level of what we'd probably be willing to call“xenophobia”, since“xenophobia” is an insulting word.

This is why no country on the planet has anything even remotely approaching an open-border policy - not Canada, not Sweden, not Singapore, and certainly not the United States.

So when I say“Japan is not a xenophobic country”, what I mean is that it's not
xenophobic. If you want to call every country in the world“xenophobic”, well, fine, that's your prerogative, but I think that renders the word a little useless.

Anyway, there are a few basic facts we can look at in order to gauge Japan's level of xenophobia. First, we can observe the number of immigrants Japan actually takes in. Second, we can look at the policies it uses to select who gets to come. And third, we have data on Japanese attitudes toward immigration.

Immigrant flows and policies

It is true that until recently, Japan had relatively little immigration in the postwar period. That changed slowly starting in the 1990s, and then in 2013, when the late
Abe Shinzo came to power , it began to change even faster.

Recognizing Japan's dire demographic situation, Abe resolved to open up the country to immigration. The result was a sea change that has rapidly altered the face of Japan.

First, let's look at some numbers. Here is the official number of foreign residents in Japan:

No, Japan

By Yuasan – Own work , Data from National Institute of Population and Social Security Research (IPSS)

In fact, this chart is misleading because almost none of the“Koreans” in Japan - the orange line on the graph - are actually Korean. They are what's commonly known as
- people of Korean descent who were born in Japan and usually only speak Japanese but who have Korean passports – because Japan does not have birthright citizenship.

Zainichi people are free to take Japanese citizenship at any time, and over time
most have been doing this , and/or intermarrying, which is why the orange section on the chart is shrinking.

In other words, the increase in the number of foreigners in Japan is even more recent and dramatic than the chart indicates. In the 1980s, Japan deserved its reputation as a country that didn't accept immigrants.

In the 90s there was an influx of people from China and Brazil (the latter being mostly ethnically Japanese), followed by the Philippines. In the post-Abe age, there has been an explosion of Vietnamese immigration, in addition to an influx from India and various other countries.

As of 2023, there were
3.2 million foreign residents
of Japan. That's 2.6% of the country's population. That might not sound like a lot, and it's
a lot compared to countries in Europe or the Anglosphere. In fact, it's lower than
the world average
of 3.5%. But the rate of change matters a lot - it's a very steep increase over a very short period of time. The stock of immigrants in Japan is not large, but the flow is substantial.

And if you're talking about Japan
right now, the flow is what you should look at, not the stock. The Japan of 2024 is not the Japan of 1984. This often comes as a surprise to those Westerners who are used to thinking about Japan through the lens of century-old essentialist stereotypes, but Japanese social attitudes and political policies
tend to change a lot over time .


Asia Times

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