Japan is unique among economies that are highly developed and in demographic decline in having so few immigrants. In fact, even European states that are in much better demographic condition also have large numbers of foreigners and recently naturalized citizens in their labor force.
The domestic economic advantages of a more open immigration policy are well documented. What is less understood is how it can be used as a foreign policy instrument. If Japan were home to several million guest workers, the country would become the lifeline of tens of millions of individuals back in their homeland who would benefit from the remittances of their relatives in the archipelago. Its economic role in the lives of some of these countries would become second to none. Many individuals would start to study Japanese, in the hope of one day working in the country. Familiarity with Japan and its culture would also rise dramatically in these nations.
Immigrants would also gradually provide Japanese businesses with a pool of truly bicultural and bilingual employees whom they could hire and use to develop their overseas activities. Japanese universities would gain researchers who are not only well-trained but also better able to participate in international scientific projects and symposiums. Bringing qualified teachers from countries such as the Philippines and India could give Japanese students, for the first time in their lives, the experience of learning English with instructors who actually know the language fluently (unlike many Japanese who teach English) and who are trained to teach (as opposed to the many Westerners in “English conversation schools” whose blue eyes and blond hair are frequently their only qualifications).
All of these changes would benefit not only Japan’s economy but also its ability to be heard in the world. Thus, immigration is one of the most important tools Japan has if it wishes to build a new Asia where Japan will be at the center rather than the periphery.