email us


Fly to Iran

Sehaty Foreign Exchange

Flower delivery in Iran

Advertise with The Iranian


 Write for The Iranian

Japan can say yes
... to the rest of the world

November 3, 2000
The Iranian

A country's strength often is also its weakness. Japan's relative homogeneity of population, language, and culture has been historically a source of its immense strength. But with the tide of globalization hitting at its shores, that homogeneity has become a source of weakness. Japan's homogeneity helped her in the 19th century to quickly unify against Western imperial ambitions. The Meiji Restoration catapulted Japan to the ranks of great powers by the turn of the 20th century. Although the same uniformity of beliefs and behavior led the Japanese people to blindly follow their militarist leaders into the Second World War, the postwar years witnessed a resurgence of Japan as an economic superpower.

Since 1990, however, the stagnation of the Japanese economy has revealed important structural impediments to the Japanese progress. The most important of these impediments is perhaps the Japanese mindset forged by its island insularity. In an age of globalization, countries that are heterogeneous in population with many ties to the outside world enjoy an advantage. Witness the United States and more recently Canada and Australia that have actively encouraged immigration and multicultural policies.

Immigrants bring to a country not only their talents and sometimes capital but also a drive to succeed and a diversity of cultural and social ties across the globe. They stimulate the economies and societies of the host countries by offering human and financial capital as well as their cuisine, music, art, language, religion, and culture.

Japan has been extremely reluctant to accept immigrants. Some Japanese leaders such as Prime Minister Nakasone have been blunt about the reasons for this reluctance. In the 1980s when Japan seemed to lead the rest of the industrial world in its economic performance, Nakasone opined that the U. S. weakness stems from the presence of too many immigrants in its population. In the current debate on whether or not Japan should extend voting rights in local elections to the permanent residents who have been in Japan for several generations, the ruling party's policy is negative. For example, many Koreans who were forcibly removed to Japan during the inter-war period to undertake menial tasks have been denied citizenship and equal rights.

A recent study by the Carnegie Endowment for Peace shows that to maintain its current industrial power Japan must allow some 600,000 immigrants per year. Like the graying of populations in other advanced industrial societies, the graying of Japan requires import of workers from elsewhere. However, the Japanese reluctance to allow immigration presents an impediment to its future progress. This is not to say that relaxing its immigration policies would be a panacea to Japan's current economic malaise. Japan's skewed income distribution, high rates of savings, bureaucratic government, and a state-corporate alliance discouraging competition, present equally serious obstacles to its progress.

Fortunately for Japan, however, there are views and voices today that argue for a Japan that can say yes to the rest of the world. The younger generation Japanese are clearly more open to the world than the older. Their language ability, inter-cultural skills, travel, and in some cases international education have prepared them to face a more complex world than their parents. However, they face an uncertain future unless Japan moves beyond its current doldrums. Ryu-Murakami, one of the most popular Japanese novelists, warns "this country has everything except hope." Japan's lifelong employment is a thing of the past. Young women are often required to quit their jobs after marriage. Bankruptcies have led many mid-size corporate executives to take their own lives. The rising tide of suicide, some 40,000 this year, is indicative of the problems.

Such figures as Daisaku Ikeda, Soka Gakkai International, and the Komeito Party have for long advocated an internationalization of Japan. Ikeda has extensively traveled around the world and has built cultural bridges between Japan and many countries. He has also held dialogues with over 1500 world leaders. Soka Gakkai is a lay Buddhist organization that is now represented in more than 150 countries. Komeito Party advocates voting rights in local elections for permanent residents. Japanese global corporations such as Sony, Toyota, and Fujitsu also have contributed their share in the globalization of Japanese trade, investment, and travel. Japanese tourists are bringing the news of the world to their country while adopting such exotic practices as the hula dance, which is enjoying popularity among Japanese older ladies.

But that is not enough. Japan needs to overhaul its immigration and educational policies to overcome the homogeneity that gave it strength in the past but is presenting an impediment to its future progress. Introduction of foreign languages and cultural studies at an early age, a more open immigration policy, extension of rights to the immigrants including citizenship to those who have lived in Japan for several generations, and celebration of other peoples and cultures can put Japan back on its path to progress.

Globalization for Japan as for other countries requires no less. As an economic superpower, Japan can play a significant role in world affairs by adopting a kind of Scandinavian positive neutrality in international conflicts. Japan can also unleash the immense energy of its own population by democratizing its politics, redistributing income to generate greater internal demand, emancipating its women from social and economic fetters, and allowing the synergy of immigration to stimulate its society. The rest of the world also has much to learn from the genius of Japan- in discipline, teamwork, aesthetic sensibility, generosity, and of course marvelous cuisine.

Tokyo, October 31, 2000


Majid Tehranian is professor of international communication at the University of Hawaii and director of the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research.

Comment for The Iranian letters section
Comment to the writer Majid Tehranian

 Send flowers

Copyright © Abadan Publishing Co. All Rights Reserved. May not be duplicated or distributed in any form

 MIS Internet Services

Web Site Design by
Multimedia Internet Services, Inc

 GPG Internet server

Internet server by
Global Publishing Group.