- Help (Not) Wanted: Immigration Politics in Japan by Michael Strausz
Why are there so few foreign residents in Japan? This is one question that puzzles students of contemporary Japanese economics, politics, and society. Our general expectation is that Japan, a country of economic strength and political stability with a lifestyle and culture that find many admirers around the world, would be among the so-called pull countries that draw potential migrants from within its neighboring region and beyond. Migration theory tells us that this pull is particularly pronounced in countries surrounded by push countries that stand comparatively lower in terms of economic prosperity, political freedom, and quality of life. Economists understand global migration flows as occurring in response to these push/pull mechanisms. Political scientists also look at the power of the state and the various interests of political actors in administering migration inflows (and sometimes outflows, too)—interests such as labor shortages or surpluses; economic upturns or downturns; and, more delicately, the degree to which the society of the receiving country welcomes newcomers. These factors and more will translate into a government’s deliberations on how to design migration policies.
Being a political scientist, Michael Strausz focuses in Help (Not) Wanted on the power of the state. His main research question is why Japan “has admitted hardly any immigrants” (p. 2). Throughout the book he argues for the following two answers: First, interest groups, most notably from the business world, that lobby for a somewhat more open-door migration policy have not been able to get through to policy makers with their demands. This is all the more surprising given that their line of argumentation is often rooted in Japan’s demographic change and the alarming impact of that change on the labor market, a threat whose perception is generally shared within the government. Second, there has never been strong support for a proimmigration policy within the government because of a lack of a sense of what Strausz calls “an obligation to admit foreigners.” This “obligation may be moral, based on ethnic solidarity, based on a conception of national identity or the national interest, or rooted in an interpretation of international law” (pp. 2–3). In other words, neither economic pragmatism nor political ideology and humanitarian values have so far managed to profoundly shake up Japan’s migration policy, despite numerous piecemeal reforms that have been implemented in recent years to address the most pressing economic needs such as the growing labor shortage in caregiving for the elderly. To support his claims Strausz presents a qualitative (and occasionally quantitative) policy analysis that is based on three main sources of data—reports by central-level bureaucratic agencies and political parties along with the minutes of Diet hearings; numerous expert interviews; and, finally, media coverage of “key moments in the making of Japan’s current immigration system” (p. 28). [End Page 235]
The content of the book can be summarized as follows: After a brief introductory chapter that reveals the main argument, chapter 2 illustrates the labor shortages facing Japan’s economy. Chapter 3 provides a closeup look at the so-called oldcomer Koreans, the longest-standing ethnic minority in Japan, and their societal (dis)integration and legal situation. Having thus introduced Japan’s labor market situation and shed some light on an example minority group, Strausz is ready by the end of chapter 3 to argue that “there are three paths through which alternative ways of thinking about foreign residents might emerge” (p. 59) and lead to a Japan with a substantially larger foreign population contributing to a growing economy and the internationalization of its society. The subsequent three chapters elaborate on each of those three paths. Chapter 4 discusses the effects of Japan’s demographic change, which not only puts severe stress on domestic businesses but also provides a potential window of opportunity to foreign workers seeking employment in the country. Chapter 5 deals with the possibility that in light of the international context Japan might rethink its refugee policy. To this end the...