Immigration and Racism in Japan: Litmus test for liberal democracy?

November 18, 2020

This event discussed the growing debate around whether or not Japan will become a country of immigration and the related and under addressed subject of racism. Japan is one of the few liberal democracies in the world to have successfully resisted immigration in its postwar economy. However, in the last twenty years, immigration in Japan has increased substantially with various side doors for unskilled labor as well as official entry points for skilled labor with options for fast-tracked permanent residency. In 2018, Prime Minister Abe proposed some 500,000 unskilled workers by 2025 to fill jobs in industries with labor shortages while at the same time declaring that this is not an immigration policy. In the face of an aging population and low birthrate, Japan finds itself at a crossroads of whether, how, and when to accept the increasing reality of immigration as a solution to its demographic decline and labor shortage.

Will Japan follow the path of Western liberal democracies in accepting immigrants and extending rights of citizenship? How are immigrants being received? Do immigrants exercise political rights and build coalition with other marginalized groups? What is the role of race, ethnicity, and racism in all of this? Will Japan go the way of Western liberal democracies or in the direction of illiberal autocracies such as Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates. This event provided an opportunity to discuss issues of immigration and racism in Japan. It brought together leading scholars in the field of immigration and racism with a focus on Japan.


Erin Chung, Charles D. Miller Associate Professor of East Asian Politics, John Hopkins University

Apichai Shipper, Adjunct Associate Professor in the Asian Studies Program, Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service; Asia Regional Chair at the Foreign Service Institute of the U.S. Department of State

Atsuko Abe, J. F. Oberlin University College of Liberal Arts, Tokyo, Japan

Gracia Liu-Farrer, Waseda University, Tokyo, Japan

Moderated by: 

Michael Sharpe, Research Scholar, Weatherhead East Asian Institute; Associate Professor of Political Science, York College, City University of New York

Introductory remarks by: 

Takako Hikotani, Gerald L. Curtis Associate Professor of Modern Japanese Politics and Foreign Policy, Department of Political Science