Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
Tokyo, Japan (4E) – Japan’s xenophobia and muted racism are attempting to block the government’s plan to hire 500,000 unskilled foreign workers to ease the country’s crippling labor crisis. Two-thirds of Japanese firms are short of workers, according to the Japan Chamber of Commerce.
For decades, Japan has officially banned the entry of unskilled foreign workers despite its rapidly collapsing working-age population of young workers. The number of Japanese companies closing shop because of a lack of workers jumped by 40 percent in the first half of the financial year compared with the same period in 2017.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plan to boost the number of foreign workers has, however, been met with protests from right-wing and racist Japanese fearful of foreign contamination of their homogeneous gene pool.
Abe is preparing to introduce legislation in the National Diet that will allow migrants to work in sectors worst hit by the Japan’s shrinking and rapidly ageing population. These foreigners will work in five industries beset by an acute labor shortage: agriculture, construction, hotels, nursing, and shipbuilding.
In June, the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy chaired by Abe adopted a set of immigration policies for establishing a new visa status for non-professional foreign laborers. By 2025, Abe’s government wants as many as 500,000 relatively low-skilled laborers to enter the Japan.
This piece of legislation is among the first Abe will tackle after winning a historic third term as president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) last month.
Early this week, more than 100 noisy demonstrators marched through Tokyo’s chic Ginza shopping district, waving Japanese Imperial Army flags from World War II and urging Abe to withdraw the new immigration plan.
The right-wingers, who called themselves “Japan First,” were heckled by counter-protesters shouting “Racists go home!” Political analysts said protesters like this group will aggressively exploit into anti-immigrant sentiments that are prevalent elsewhere in the developed world.
“Far-right parties have very little support in Japan,” said Eriko Suzuki, a professor at Kokushikan University who studies migration. “But there are a lot more people — a kind of reserve army — who are vaguely concerned about admitting foreigners. If the government doesn’t put together appropriate policies, that unease will increase.”
Japan’s xenophobia is reflected in the paltry numbers of foreigners it’s welcomed. Foreigners comprise just 1.7 percent (2.6 million) of the country’s population (126 million) as of April. Of the total number of foreigners, 1.3 million are workers.
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