To Dodge or Bite the Bullet
Immigration Politics in Japan
Continuity has been the hallmark of immigration policy in Japan since the country regained its sovereignty following the official end of the Occupation by the United States some sixty-five years ago in April 1952. This continuity is puzzling, given the fact that the both the economy and society of Japan and the country’s geopolitical circumstances today are unrecognizable compared to what existed even thirty years ago. The extraordinary upheavals of the 1980s and 1990s—the rapid growth and then the bursting of Japan’s asset-inflated bubble economy, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the emergence of China as an economic superpower, and growing anxiety about Japan’s long-term demographics—did not significantly alter an immigration policy that remains fundamentally rooted in security-based fears dating back to the early Cold War era. Drawing upon interviews conducted in the summer of 2016 with Japanese citizens currently or previously employed in politics, academia, the bureaucracy and NGOs, this article addresses some theories that might explain the durability of Japan’s seemingly anachronistic, Occupation-inspired immigration regime. In particular, I seek to show how the Ministry of Justice was able to retain its key role as the guarantor of internal security even after the Cold War ended. As this article is intended to form part of a larger book project, I also briefly mention comparisons with Germany to show how Japan evolved differently on immigration-related policy.