What does matter?: Beyond the cultural explanation of the immigrant society of Japan


Center for Japanese Studies, UC Berkeley

October 19 | 5-6:30 p.m. PDT | Online – Zoom Webinar

Speaker: Yu Korekawa, Ph.D., Director, National Institute of Population and Social Security Research
Discussant: Kazuo Yamaguchi, Professor, The University of Chicago
Moderator: Keiko Yamanaka, Lecturer, UC Berkeley

Japan has experienced a rapid increase in its immigrant population since the 1990s. Although the size of the immigrant population is still small compared to other developed countries at around 2% of the total population, it has experienced a net influx of nearly 200,000 foreign nationals annually in recent years, which represents an annual increase of 3-5%. Moreover, approximately 1/10 of young people under age 44 will be those with migrant backgrounds by 2030.

Against this backdrop, Japan has garnered attention as an immigrant society in recent studies. However, most of these studies focus on the cultural and consciousness aspects of Japanese culture, such as the high homogeneity of Japanese society and its strong sense of exclusion, and few studies have clarified the characteristics of acceptance and integration into the social structure, such as the labor market. This is due to the hidden assumption that Japan is a latecomer or an exception as an immigrant society, which is a viewpoint held by academics both inside and outside Japanese society.

In this study, I analyzed the immigrant population’s integration into Japan from the social stratification perspective, such as the Japanese employment system (JES). This is a standard approach in immigration studies in the U.S. and other countries. As a result, it was found that some of the characteristics of foreign workers in Japan, such as their low average wages, which have been thought to be caused by homogeneity and exclusionary attitudes of the Japanese society, are caused by the JES in general, which is known as lifetime and seniority-based employment without precise job descriptions/skill requirements. This sheds new light for those who view Japan as an exceptional immigrant society. It also demonstrates that migration study is a framework that can be applied to multiple societies.

Dr. Yu Korekawa started his professional career as a staff economist in the Cabinet Office, Government of Japan, in 2003. He worked for the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy (CEFP), which the Prime Minister chairs. He was a deputy director in charge of policy planning and economic analysis. He obtained an academic position in the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research in 2012 and has been in charge of international migration and migration policy research. He has been a delegate of Japan to the Working Party on Migration (WPM) and Expert Group on Migration (SOPEMI), OECD since 2013, and he is also assigned as a bureau member of WPM from 2021-to 2024 for a second term. He obtained his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. from the University of Tokyo, and M.A. from University of California, Irvine.

Registration required: https://berkeley.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_F1vgT4MHS8i793lwRuwnTA