in comparison to Sweden
Last year, Japan officially accepted 106 refugees. While one fifth of the Swedish population is foreign origin, foreign population in Japan accounts for 1.7 percent, among 120 million people. Eighty percent of them are those born in Asian countries. Why Japan is so homogeneous?
To begin with, Japan accepts few immigrants as well as refugees while Sweden historically has experience to open its border. That experience allows Sweden to develop integration policy, which strengthens the capacity to accept more. In other words, Japan has less experience, which can be a barrier to accept foreign-born persons.
Japan can be called a closed country, which enables it to develop its own unique culture. The prime reason is its geographic feature. Japan is an island country surrounded by sea whereas Sweden is a part of the continent. It has been physically difficult to move from other areas to Japan.
The fact that Japan had enough population during the time of high economic growth also explains its homogeneity. It was the time of industrial expansion after the WW2 that Sweden accepted a large number of immigrants. The rise in demand for unskilled labor increased immigration from the Nordic or other Western European countries. On the other hand, the biggest baby boom after the war enabled Japan to supply demanded labor. People born in rural area went to cities and worked away from home. Thus, Japan did not face necessity to resort to immigrants.
However, Japan is starting to show signs of change. There are two reasons. First, Japan lacks labor force due to population aging. The proportion of the elderly aged 65 and older in Japan reached to 25.0%, making the country become known as ‘the world’s oldest and fastest aging society. In order to keep economic growth, Japan is relaxing visa requirements for foreign workers. But still, it is cautious when it comes to refugees because people are concerned about integration.
Second, humanitarian reason puts pressure on Japanese attitude towards immigrants. One cannot ignore responsibility to help refugees. Actually Japanese government recently declared that it will accept 150 Syrians as exchange students. Although it might be small contribution from Sweden’s perspective, it is great strides for Japan.
It might be the time for Japan to look carefully at what is happening in the world and reconsider its stance for immigrants.
Text: Kiko Asakawa