As of January 1st of this year, the highest number ever of foreigners, 2,497,000 (a 7.5% year-on-year increase) has been recorded living in Japan, according to a survey of population dynamics recently announced by Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.
Another key takeaway from the survey is the significant number of young foreigners now living in the country. Foreign nationals in their twenties make up about 5.8% of the total population of this age group in Japan, and in the city of Tokyo, one in ten people in their twenties is of foreign origin. The survey also showed that the population of foreigners in the country’s smaller towns and villages has grown in the last year.
As we discussed in another post, (Japan to open doors to 500,000 new workers by 2025 to alleviate labor shortage), foreigners are an increasingly important part of the Japanese labor force, as the country faces a labor shortage due to a large-scale demographic drop off.
Japan’s population declined, proportion of foreigners increased
In contrast to the growth in the foreign national population of the country, Japan’s population as a whole (based on the basic register of residents, 住民基本台帳) has decreased for nine years in a row, coming in at 125,209,603, an annual decrease of 374,055 people. This was also the biggest annual drop since 1968, when the government started doing the survey.
Based on this year’s survey, the foreigner population of Japan comprises about 1.99% of Japan’s total population.
In 2016, there were 2,382,822 registered foreigners living in Japan. This was a 6.7% year-on-year increase, and at the time, was the highest number ever recorded by the Ministry of Justice (MOJ 2016 Registered Foreigner Survey [In Japanese]). In 2016, Japan’s population was about 126,740,000, with foreigners comprising about 1.88% of the total, so the proportion of foreigners in the total population of the country has increased in the last year.
Foreigner population increased in 46 prefectures, Shinjuku Ward had highest number of foreigners in Tokyo 23 Wards
In this year’s survey, the population of foreigners increased in 46 of Japan’s 47 prefectures. Only in Nagasaki prefecture did the number of foreigners not increase year-on-year. It’s also noteworthy that the total number of foreigners in Japan now exceeds the entire population of the city of Nagoya, which has a population of 2,319,000.
Due largely to the high number of Japanese language schools and universities in Shinjuku Ward, Shinjuku has the distinction of having the highest foreigner population in the 23 Wards of Tokyo, with about 42,000 people.
In Shinjuku Ward, the total population of people in their twenties has increased about 7%, compared to five years ago. An astounding 40% of people in this age group are foreign nationals.
Many young foreigners in Shinjuku and throughout Japan work in the retail industry. An NLI Research Institute report has found that about 7% of the 35,000 people working at 7-11 convenience stores throughout Japan are of foreign origin.
Labor Needs in Tourism and Manufacturing Industries Driving Growth
Demand for workers in the tourism and manufacturing industries are key drivers in the growth of the foreign population in certain municipalities.
Yubari City, Hokkaido, which had a population of 8,600 in 2017, had the nation’s highest rate of growth in its foreigner population. Much of this increase is due to recruitment of foreigners to work in the nearby ski resorts, which have seen a jump in inbound tourism in the last few years. Shimupakku village, also in Hokkaido, had the highest proportion of foreigners of all the cities, towns, and villages of Japan. This is also due to foreign workers being recruited to work as ski instructors and customer service staff in nearby ski resorts, which include Club Med Tomamu Hokkaido and Hoshino Resort Tomamu.
In Oizumi-cho, Gunma, foreigners account for about 18% of the total population. In this town, manufacturers have been facing a labor shortage for years and the inflow of foreign workers has somewhat helped to alleviate the shortage. In previous years, workers from South American countries made up more than 80% of foreign workers but in recent years the number of people from Asian countries, especially Nepal, has increased
According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, there were about 1.28 million foreigners working in Japan as of the end of October 2017. Chinese people accounted for about 30% of the total, but the number of people coming from Vietnam and Nepal has also increased rapidly.
According to an OECD survey, about 200,000 temporary workers came to Japan in 2016, exceeding the number coming to such countries as the United Kingdom and Canada. As we discussed here (Japan to open doors to 500,000 new workers by 2025 to alleviate labor shortage) Japan has an extremely strict immigration regime and up to now, the government has been reluctant to accept lower-skill workers, other than on a temporary basis.
On May 29th this year, the government announced a policy shift with respect to this. A law is in the works that will create a new work visa status for lower-skilled workers and lower the bar on the level of Japanese required for workers applying to enter the country. It will also designate five industries where the government aims to allow more than 500,000 workers to be admitted by 2025.
At the same time, the government is eager to continue to attract highly skilled workers, as we discussed here (Getting permanent residence in Japan: new rules announced). Last year, rules for getting permanent resident (PR) status were revised so that it is now possible for highly-skilled workers to get this status in as little as one year. Previously, foreigners wishing to receive PR status had to live in Japan for a minimum of ten years, or five years, in the case of “highly-skilled [foreign] professionals” (高度人材).
Along with the increase in the foreign population of Japan, there have been calls by government officials on both a national and local level to help foreigners better adapt to life in Japan, especially with respect to learning the language.
At the same time, the Japanese media has reported cases where officials and citizens have expressed concerns about crime and safety issues as they have seen the local foreigner population increase in their neighborhood. Whether one thinks this is due to thinly veiled racism, as some observers have pointed out, one thing that is clear is that Japanese society is going to have deal with the ramifications of population change on the composition of Japanese society itself.
Sources Nikkei Shinbun (January 11, 2018), Reuters Japan, Japanese government statistics database e-Stat