What has happened in Japan is horrific. So large is the death-toll, it is beyond my capacity to understand the damage borne by entire communities. This is likely the reason I have switched off, apart from peripheral updates on the unfolding nuclear disaster.
However, one thought that has stuck in my mind is the potential for significant change to now occur within Japanese culture and society.
Writing at Inside Story, Tessa Morris-Suzuki mentions in passing that the people of Japan might become more strident about reform to politics and bureaucracy in their country.
As a distant observer, I have to admit that any ideas I suggest risk being flaccid.
The major reconstruction effort required in Japan will require a massive number of skilled workers, from planning to engineering and construction. Given Japan’s aging and shrinking population, it seems inevitable that the country will look to foreign workers, if not migration, to fill the skill and labour gaps.
I am curious about whether this might influence an opening of Japanese society to outsiders. In spite of the many gifts that Japan offers the world, it is also notorious for its (usually) polite racism, tinged with something of a superiority complex.
The reconstruction is an opportunity for this to change. I freely admit that this narrative relies on many provisos, and that I am largely talking outside of my own knowledge and experience.
If Japanese policy makers allow an opening of skilled immigration or at least temporal skill imports (along the lines of Australian 457 visas); and that this is well managed and bears positive outcomes; the same policy makers may well consider a similar response to the problems faced by an aging, shrinking population and the economic doldrums of the past twenty years.
A Government effort to avoid inevitable racial conflict would be required, including a level of respect afforded to foreigners. And, as educated and skilled workers, these new Japanese residents would likely agitate for formal recognition in the form of Japanese citizenship. This would avoid the current situation where many Korean families have resided in Japan for generations, but still are considered foreign nationals.
I wonder if this could happen. I wonder if it could lead to a discussion about multiculturalism in Japan.
I wonder if the racism is too entrenched and the institutions of Government too inert to be proactive facing the challenges of immigration. Potentially, it could bring on a retreat into conservative Nationalism
Here’s hoping not.