Daily Management Review

Japan is trying to save its population with robots and migrants


Population of Japan is rapidly declining and will eventually die out completely. To cope with labor shortages, the mono-ethnic country weakens some of the strictest immigration laws in the world. Foreigners and robots are expected to fill the demographic gap.

The Parliament of Japan passed a law allowing access to the country for low-skilled foreign workers. The authorities expect that 350 thousand such workers will come to the country in the next five years. 

From April 2019, workers in 14 sectors of the economy will be able to work in Japanese industries with the most acute shortage of working hands: construction, hotel business, agriculture, medicine, nursing and elderly care, shipbuilding and some others. The law does not spell out provisions on the protection of the rights of foreign workers and structure of their life, however, it is indicated that the visitors will be paid no less than their Japanese counterparts. In addition, relocation with the family will be allowed for highly skilled workers.

In 2017, about 1.3 million foreign workers were registered in Japan (native population reaches to 126 million people). They are dominated by citizens of China, Vietnam and the Philippines. In general, foreigners make up only 2% of the country’s population.

Until recently, foreign citizens in the field of physical labor were, in principle, prohibited, although there were some ways to circumvent this restriction. So, foreigners of Japanese origin, foreign students and interns could legally qualify for unskilled work.

The Japanese authorities have repeatedly been criticized for the fact that labor migrants work as "interns of technical specialties" in extremely uncomfortable working conditions, with low wages and long working days. Representatives of the opposition indicated that they do not learn anything, but are actually being exploited. They fear that the new law "does not provide migrants with the right to human treatment."

Tokyo's desire to attract migrant workers is understandable. But the plan to receive 350,000 foreign workers is not an adequate measure to reverse the long-term trend of population decline. It decreased by 373 thousand people only in 2017. “Although the door opening policy is the right direction, the government should do even more,” Kohei Iwahara, economist at Natixis Japan Securities, told CNBC.

Traditionally, the attitude towards migrants among the Japanese is negative. According to a November poll by the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, only 48% of the Japanese population are in favor of increasing the number of foreign workers, and 42% are against this measure.

Demographic trouble

Population decline is one of the most acute problems for Japan. A long period of low birth rates began in the 60s, and since then this trend has not changed.

88 million people will live in Japan by 2065, and by 2115 their number will fall to 51 million, the National Institute for Population and Social Protection predicted. 126.8 million people lived in Japan by the end of 2017. This means that by 2115 the population will be reduced by 60%. The birth rate is now 1.44 children per woman. For natural reproduction of the population, this indicator should be about 2.1, the institute wrote. The researchers have calculated that in the most negative scenario, the nation will cease to exist in the year 3776.

In these calculations, they proceeded from the current level of immigration, that is, only 50 thousand people per year. To stabilize the population, the influx of people into the country should exceed 500 thousand people, the institute warned.

In 2017, Japan had the lowest birth rate in the last 100 years. A record number of children were born in the country (941 thousand). The Ministry of Health has recorded "a decrease in the number of women of childbearing age (from 25 to 39 years)." The death rate was 1.34 million people.

In order to somehow remedy the situation, the authorities reduced the age of maturity from 20 to 18 years. It will be possible to get married from this age. Indirectly, this measure should lead to an increase in the birth rate, the government hopes. The authorities are also set to improve working conditions for part-time workers, especially young mothers.

Another thing is that the Japanese themselves do not really want to get married or marry. According to a study of the National Institute of Population 2016, 70% of Japanese and 60% of Japanese women live without partners. Japanese youth clearly prefers to build a career as residents of the country work 16 hours a day on average.

It is noteworthy that there are a lot of long-livers in Japan, and the life expectancy in the country is one of the highest on the planet. In 2016, the life expectancy of men was almost 81 years, and women - just over 87 years.

The land of robots

The Japanese, however, came up with another way to fight shortage of labor, and it’s robots. Local residents already use robots to care for the elderly in nursing homes. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is promoting the "revolution of robots." According to his plans, by 2020 the market for robotics should grow four times to 2.4 trillion yen, while a quarter of all work in large Japanese corporations by this time will be performed by them.

There are not enough pedagogical personnel, too, so in August 2018, the Ministry of Education of Japan announced that next year it would launch a program, within the framework of which English-speaking robots with artificial intelligence would be introduced in the country's schools. This way, students will learn English. Trend of replacement builders is also gaining strength. Several Japanese construction companies are developing robots for high-rise construction. In particular, Shimizu is testing robots that can weld beams, transport loads, and install ceiling panels.

source: cnbc.com