With so much talk of globalization, it might seem counterintuitive to suggest that Japan is turning inward, but that’s what some have concluded.
Take Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, where the local government last year made what seemed like a coldhearted offer to Latin American immigrants: It would pay them to go back home — as long as they agreed not to look for work here again. Some had invested 20 years in this country and had children who knew nothing about Brazil or Peru.
I’ve written about immigration a lot because Japan is still an anomaly in the developed world. Despite a string of signals from the business and political worlds that a population crisis will force immigration policy past its tipping point, the government shows no sign of taking the padlocks off “fortress Japan.”
Roughly 2 percent of the population here is foreign, far below most OECD countries. And the Hamamatsu case, while isolated, seemed to show that the state might take away the welcome mat when the economy darkens.
It’s not that I don’t understand how Japan feels. In my native Ireland, the foreign population went from almost zero to about 10 percent in the 15 or so years since I left. That’s a major adjustment for native Irish people. And there have been tensions: When I was at home in April, racist thugs murdered a young black boy in the capital, Dublin.
But immigration is in my view changing Ireland immeasurably for the better, bringing in new influences, cultures and food, broadening our perspectives on the world and contributing to our economy. And immigration is payback: the Irish, after all, have gone all over the world. Why shouldn’t we give something back?
I wonder if Japan will ever feel the same?