Prompted by this fantastic documentary, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what the future holds for Japan. It is well known that the country’s economic prosperity and survival lies in solving its population crisis. In order to combat this, the government has set its sights on increasing immigration and, to a lesser extent, encouraging domestic growth.
Over the past several years, Japan has made some attempts to ease restrictions on immigration. This summer a number of reforms concerning visas, foreign resident registration, and re-entry permits were passed. Though the reforms were fairly minor, that immigration is even being addressed is noteworthy for a country that has long held foreigners at arm’s length. Although this attitude is changing, Japan still remains a fairly insular culture. For example, a person of Korean descent born in Japan must hold an Alien Registration Card unless she is willing to give up her Korean name in exchange for Japanese civil rights (for more on this, see the aforementioned documentary). Yet simply altering a few laws and allowing more unskilled, cheap labor into the country will not necessarily bring the desired results. Continued prejudice against foreigners will almost certainly hinder Japan’s attempts to create a truly thriving economy and socially equitable society.
On the side of domestic growth, the government has been encouraging women to have more children. Of course, this won’t be possible without a system that allows Japanese families to both grow and maintain two incomes. Childcare is expensive and mainly reserved for the wealthy, while support for working mothers is basically nonexistent. As a result, women must choose between work and family, often choosing the latter (though this is definitely changing). There is a lot more to say on this issue, but I’ll reserve that for another post. In the meantime, consider that Japan ranked 94th (out of 134 countries) on the World Economic Forum’s 2010 Gender Gap Report.
In countries like Japan and the U.S., future economic growth will not necessarily come in traditional forms. After all, manufacturing as we know it in the developed world is dead or dying. These countries will have to remake their economies to fit a new, more intangible model of productivity. I would argue that the increasing popularity of teaching English abroad among young Americans certainly reflects this reality. (The recession is also to blame here, but that in itself is a sign of the changing times.)
Steven recently predicted that Japan will adopt culture as its main “export” and revenue generator. Another option is sustainable development, as this recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle points out,
“The bigger dream is for the smart city to become Japan’s next big export, fueling new growth and ambition at a time when the country finds itself in an economic rut and eclipsed by China as the world’s second-biggest economy behind the United States.”
This had never really occurred to me, though it now seems perfectly obvious. Japan has always been a leader in technology, and is also keenly aware of the importance of conserving resources. I have imagined that the U.S. might also rebuild its economy along a “green” model, but I suspect that Japan will be far more successful, in part because the leadership is more attuned to the impending crisis and in part because the Japanese already have a fundamental understanding of what it takes to build an environmentally sustainable society.
I’m curious about your opinions on these issues, readers. No doubt there are interesting comparisons to be made between Japan’s immigration issues and the current debate in the States. Are there other intangible “exports” you can envision? What do you think the future holds for the U.S., Japan, or whichever country you live in (or identify with)?