On August 29, 2019, the Washington Post published an article, “Japan is a Trumpian paradise of low immigration rates. It is also a dying country.” The author is Francisco Toro, a Venezuelian journalist.
The article is remarkable for its incoherence, bogus claims, and, above all, its denigration of Japan and the Japanese. I generally ignore writing of this ilk, but because of the prominence of the venue and the many comments it attracted (1,043 as of this writing), I feel obliged to take it up as an example of anti-Japanese bias in the Washington Post.
The article begins with the well-known issue of vacant housing in Japan. Linking this to alleged hostility to immigration, Toro claims, “But in just about every other developed country, the houses freed up by the elderly are snapped up by new arrivals — young workers from developing countries in the prime of their lives, eager for a better future for their families.”
Rather, vacant houses in Japan and other countries are not freed up by the elderly but are largely the result of young people moving elsewhere in search of jobs. This is particularly true of Kitakyushu, the area that Toro uses as an example. It is a rust belt city, and, like other such cities, it has lost population due to outmigration.
His claim that these vacant houses are “a bright red warning sign of demographic meltdown, and an indictment of a society that has chosen homogeneity over progress” is totally specious. The United States, Germany, Italy, Spain, France, and Britain also have a large-scale vacant housing problem because no one snaps up vacant housing in areas where there are no jobs.
According to Toro, “A solid political consensus has rejected mass immigration here (Japan) for as long as anyone can remember, leaving this one of the most homogeneous countries on earth. You can think of Japan as a kind of Trumpian paradise: an ethnically-defined national community with few foreigners. And no future.”
As an historian, I have a long memory. Japan was in fact open to mass immigration in the first half of the 20th century. That resulted in a substantial Korea and Taiwan Chinese population in Japan. The country has long been open to skilled labor immigration — I myself am one such immigrant. Moreover, Japan has a substantial and growing foreign population: 2.73 million at the end of 2018, more than 2% of the total population.
According to the United Nations, the 10 fastest shrinking countries are all in Europe. Shrinkage does not mean no future. Ireland experienced an enormous population loss from 1841 into the early 20th century. Even now its population is less than what it was in 1841, but the country still exists and is prosperous.
Compared to the author’s native Venezuela, which is suffering from chronic economic chaos and massive outmigration, Japan is in robust good health.
As evidence of his argument on the dismal future facing Japan, Toro trots out an urban myth popular with foreign writers: “Recently, sales of adult diapers outnumbered sales of baby diapers here for the first time….”
This claim seems to have originated around 2011 when one company focused on adult diapers said that sales of such products exceeded sales of infant products.
Since the average selling price of adult diapers is 2.5 times those for infants, sales figures do not prove that more adult than infant diapers are being sold.
The Stagnation Myth
Toro follows his bogus claim about adult nappy sales with the assertion that this is a “harbinger of the demographic collapse that has left the country a pale shadow of the economic powerhouse that made Americans paranoid a generation ago.”
This claim is ahistorical and illogical. The Japanese economy entered an extended period of relative stagnation after stock market and real estate bubbles collapsed in 1989 and 1992, respectively. The native born population started to decline only in 2005, the total population only in 2011.
The alleged shift in nappy sales was first asserted in 2011, nearly three decades after the economy tanked. Therefore this shift could not have been a “harbinger” of a demographic collapse that had not and has not taken place.
Moreover, the “pale shadow” Japanese economy is still the third largest (nominal) and fourth largest (PPP) in the world despite Japan having a population that is only 38.5% that of the U.S. and only 8.8% that of China.
Carrying on in the same ahistorical vein, Toro asserts that “a chronic dearth of new workers has left economic growth lagging for a generation….” Once again, his claim has no basis in fact.
For much of the post-bubble era, good jobs for young workers were in short supply. Relief measures for those who did not get good jobs during the “ice age” (1993-2004) are now being debated.
An acute dearth of new workers only appeared within the last five years when the offers-to-applicant ratio began to exceed the roughly 1.5 to 1 level of the post-bubble period.
Ossified Claims About Women in Japan
Toro continues by making false claims about women in Japan, saying, “[O]ssified 1950s gender roles that simply never went away here has turned Japan into one of the least attractive places for women to have children. “
The propensity of women to have children (the fertility rate) has been generally rising in Japan since it bottomed in 2005. In contrast, the fertility rate has been declining in the Nordic countries that top the gender equality indexes.
Toro fails to note that Tokyo, with a population and economy much larger than many European countries, is headed by a woman — as is Yokohama, a city with a population and economy larger than a number of U.S. states.
In the most recent election, three of the six members elected to the Upper House of the Diet from Tokyo were women, and one of those was a member of the Japan Communist Party. The Washington Post itself has noted that the female labor force participation rate is higher in Japan than in the U.S. and that the Japanese rate is rising while the U.S. rate is falling.
If there is anything that is ossified, it is Toro’s thinking on the subject.
Child Raising in Japan
As the father of two teenage sons, I can say that Japan is a very attractive place to raise children.
It has a nationally-mandated system of daycare centers with means-adjusted charges. In many communities medical care for children involves no out-of-pocket expenses until they enter high school, after which the co-pay rate is only 30%.
Further, as someone originally from the Chicago area, I greatly appreciate the fact that there is virtually no high school gang warfare in Japan and essentially no drug problem.
Toro’s Grudging Admission of Japanese Reality
Unable to completely ignore the fact that the Abe government has recently set up a system for introducing unskilled and semi-skilled labor migrants to Japan, Toro struggles to portray this in a negative light. He observes, “The government has begun making more work permits available to foreign workers, but makes little effort to help them integrate.”
There is nothing notable about this. The two countries I am most familiar with, the U.S. and the U.K., do nothing to help new workers integrate.
He continues, “Visa rules force most foreign workers to apply for extensions frequently and prevent them from bringing their families.” However, the length of visas in Japan is not atypical, and Japan has no cap on the number of skilled professionals. Only the unskilled labor category has restrictions on bringing in family members.
As for Toro’s assertion that foreign workers can “come, work, but don’t think you’re welcome to stay,” this is simply untrue. For highly-skilled workers, Japan has a relatively easy path to permanent residency and citizenship.
Immigrant Labor Not A Cure-All
Toro clearly has no understanding of labor markets. He imagines that it is “politically impossible to truly welcome” foreign labor migrants and, therefore, “The result is that more and more jobs simply stay vacant, not just in industry and agriculture but also in the kinds of elder-care jobs this aging country most desperately needs to fill.”
In fact, jobs remain unfilled even when they are open to immigrants because, as the Washington Post itself has taken up, immigrants need to be fluent in the national language and craft or technical qualifications needed by the industry.
For the same reason, Germany is seeking workers from outside the EU because recent migrants lack the language and technical skills needed by German industry.
Is the Article about Trump or Japan?
Toro concludes with a question: “In the end, President Trump isn’t wrong: America does have a choice. Japan proves that the choice between homogeneity and diversity is real. It’s just that homogeneity leads to decline, while diversity offers at least a chance of ongoing vitality and prosperity. Which would you prefer?”
Whether diversity brings economic and social nirvana is open to question. Yugoslavia had diversity. It broke up violently. Many of the conflicts now going on involve diverse ethnic and religious groups trapped in a single country fighting each other.
In any event, if the author and the WaPo want to dump on Trump, they should do that without bringing Japan into their criticism, especially when it involves slanderous — even racist — allegations about Japan and the Japanese people.
What is the Real Question?
In my mind, this article presents only one question of significance. Why did the Washington Post publish it? Is the Post so desperate for anti-Trump material that it will use even a tedentious article about Japan? Are WaPo editors — with their several ridiculous pieces about sex and other features attributed to Japan — distinctly anti-Japanese? A mix of both?
Author: Dr. Earl H. Kinmonth