What does it mean a record high number of foreign workers in Japan?


Japanese office Chances are you have noticed that recently the Japanese media pointed out that now a record number of foreigners are working in Japan. But what does it mean in reality? What kind of percentage of foreigners are truly working in Japan? According to the Asahi Shimbun now a record number of 717,504 foreigners were working in Japan in 2013 (based on data from the labor ministry Jan. 31, 2014). Compared to previous month of October this reflects now an increase of 5 percent. While the number is not small, I have to say I am surprised how small the figure is considering the total working force in Japan of 65.44 millions (Japanese Statistics Bureau). We have now reached a number that is just a bit more than 1 percent (actually 1.10%). This number seems extremely low to me, but let me provide some comparison with other countries.
In general it is said that the ratio of the share of migrants to share of population in industrial countries is 3.3 (industrial countries had a 3.3 higher share of migrants than their share of global population), highlighting the fact that migrants usually move from poorer to richer countries. Personally I perceive still Japan as one of the richer country in Asia and I would basically expect at least the same range or even higher percentage, because the global comparison percentage is focused on a ratio of the total population.
Based on Wikipedia now 14 Million of foreign workers live in the USA, which then reflects a ratio of about 4.4 percent, which I believe is considered rather high, especially as historically the USA was building their economic growth based on the ongoing immigration. Because immigration had been a hot topic in the American media for a while, let me then try to find a more suitable example. Why not relate then as well to the background of this blog as well: Switzerland.
When looking at Switzerland, I end up most likely with the other extreme, when one in four wage earners comes from abroad (Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, or then much more detailed here). Basically I am ending up with another country that seems too far off with the comparison with Japan.
Personally I believe we can see this trend of increasing numbers of foreign workers in Japan, because more and more economical pressure within the country forces companies to try to find a market outside of Japan, most likely South East Asia. This is then reflected in the number of foreign workers, but furthermore in the respective changes. Asahi Shimbun states by nationality, Chinese formed the largest group with 303,886, up 3 percent from a year earlier. They were followed by 95,505 Brazilians, down 6 percent, 80,170 Filipinos, up 10 percent, and 37,537 Vietnamese, up 40 percent. These numbers make even more sense, when looking at the rather high number of Japanese companies that hired foreigner, furthermore the actual size of these companies (Asahi Shimbun).

“The workers were employed by 127,000 enterprises, up 6 percent from a year earlier, another record. More than half of the employers were relatively small, with a work force of less than 30. More than one-third of the workers, 260,000, were employed by manufacturers, while 16,000 worked for construction companies.”

While it is good news to see that there are changes ongoing in Japan to rebuild the economic strength, at the end the speed of the execution of these company strategies is what really can make a difference. Japanese companies are not known for making quick decisions, so I hope by learning to adjust due to financial pressure we can see a new business culture arise.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

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