According to the United Nations, the worldís demographic profile will be radically different in the year 2100. Mid-range population projections predict that in 2100, Japanís population will have fallen to under 100 million, over 28 million less than today. In the same time period, Nigeriaís population will have jumped to 700 million, an increase of 537.5 million. However, a demographic bright spot for Japan remains. The UN†projects that Japanís life expectancy will lead the world at well over 90 in 2100, and an astounding 106.3 in the year 2300. The question of how the UN can, in good conscience, produce a study that predicts the state of the world 300 years into the future is intriguing, but the pressing issue for Japan is how to approach this massive projected population decline.


The natural solution for Westerners to turn to is immigration. Americans, and increasingly Western Europeans, are used to living in societies composed of immigrants. Furthermore, the United States has never been a ethnically homogeneous nation. Similarly, the United Kingdom, a European nation that is geographically comparable to Japan by virtue of their both being island nations, has never been as ethnically homogenous as Japan. This is a fact that must be understood if Westerners are to understand why a majority of Japanese people oppose increasing immigration.

In 2008, politicians from Japanís†Liberal Democratic Party put forward a proposal to increase the number of immigrants to 10% of the population (an influx of 11 million immigrants). One impetus for this plan was a recognition of the need for more workers for Japanese industry. Geopolitical issues also were at play, for there was concern over decreased Japanese clout as a result of a smaller population. According to The Economist magazine, the author of the plan, Hidenori Sakanaka,†pictured a multicultural Japanese society in the future.


However, the majority of the Japanese public did not. According to an Asahi Shimbun poll, 65% of Japanese people opposed increasing immigration and only 26% were in favor.

If these sentiments persist, it is unlikely that the Japanese government will change its immigration policy in the near future. But even if they did, the amount of immigration needed to halt population decline may be greater than Japan can comfortably absorb. The Japanese population is currently declining at such a rate that the nation will require several hundred thousand immigrants per year to maintain itís population. This is much greater than the 15,000 new citizens that Japan currently receives each year through naturalization. Another unconventional United Nations study from the past decade estimates how many immigrants Japan would need to maintain various population statistics. In one scenario, Japan would need 10 million immigrants per year to maintain the ratio of ratio of 4.8 workers to 1 retiree that it had in 1995. This would mean that Japanís population in 2050 would be 818 million. This is hardly a realistic scenario.


Clearly, immigration alone will most likely not solve Japanís demographic problem. However, some argue that population decline is not a problem at all. In a recent article in The Guardian, Dean Baker argues that population decline is wonderful news environmentally speaking. He goes on to predict that population decline also entails greater economic equality. I believe most would agree with this statement about climate change, but the jury is still out on the question of how population decline will affect the standard of living in affected countries.


Gradually increasing immigration rates offers the best course forward for Japan. Though if current trends persist, this program will not end population decline, it will infuse a stagnant Japan with new economic vitality and help move Japanese society in a more progressive direction.

The importance of immigrants in many economic sectors is unquestionable. American politicians, recognizing the vital importance of highly skilled workers for Americaís high-tech industry, unveiled a plan in April, 2013 to provide more visas for these workers. Some of Japanís most innovative and unorthodox companies have also recognized the increasing globalization of the technology business and adopted competitive strategies. At Rakuten, one of the worldís largest e-commerce companies, English has become the mandatory language at the company. This policy recognizes the need for openness in international business and the importance of foreign workers in increasing competitiveness.



Japan, as a whole, should adopt these same beliefs. Japanís image as the nation of the future has been tarnished in recent years with constant news of a stagnating economy. New immigrants bring with them fresh ideas and new talent, which will doubtless help stimulate the Japanese economy.

Immigration would be good for Japan for social reasons as well. Many Japanese people prize the perceived ethnic homogeneity of their nation. However, this often manifests itself in xenophobia. An example of this is the widespread fear over crimes that foreigners commit in Japan. Shintaro Ishihara, the governor of Tokyo from 1999 to 2012, voiced these sentiments in many controversial statements about the moral decay and social disturbance fomented by foreigners. If the Japanese government were to embrace increased immigration with an emphasis on cultural assimilation, these views could be disproved when Japanese people find that common stereotypes of foreigners are often inaccurate. Furthermore, Japan could serve as a model to other†nations of East Asia which also struggle with xenophobia.




A demonstration of Japanís increasing progressivism through the acceptance of a multicultural society could show the world Japanís commitment to creating a more harmonious world in the future. Finally, it is unrealistic to believe that an influx of new immigrants could undermine Japanís unique culture. If anything, the processes of cultural assimilation and exchange would expose more people to the richness of Japanese culture and help educate Japanese people about foreign cultures.

Japan has much to pride itself for. It has an amazingly vibrant culture, a history of innovation, and a famously kind and hospitable people. For these reasons and more, Japan has secured for itself the title of most popular country in the world according to a BBC poll. Increased immigration, if conducted appropriately, will not undermine any of this. Japan has much to be proud of, but ethnic homogeneity should not be on the list.