Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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The Politics of Labour Migration and Demographic Change in Contemporary Japan

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posted on 2021-11-12, 14:10 authored by Bishop, Andrew

Japan currently faces a demographic crisis resulting from declines in fertility rates and rapid expansion of Japan’s elderly population. Public pensions will come under immense strain as shrinking numbers of working age people are forced to support ever more retirees. At the same time, declines in fertility and falling population figures threaten Japan’s future economic growth and vitality. This thesis investigates the relationship between the demographic crisis and Japan’s strict immigration policies. Policymakers continue to refuse to allow migration to Japan in order to offset declines in Japan’s own working age population. The thesis aims to explain why Japan remains so reluctant to accept migrant workers from abroad, even though this may offer a solution to the problems of demographic decline and depopulation. I contend that conventional analyses of Japan’s immigration policies do not provide adequate explanations for why Japan continues to exclude foreign labourers. Rather, I argue that Japan’s attitude must be understood in connection with a binary, “us-and-them” mindset toward foreign countries and communities collectively that exists in Japan’s governing and bureaucratic institutions. This mindset is evident in Japan’s practical labour policy implementation, and has important cultural and political implications for Japan’s public discourses of national identity and interests. The thesis argues that Japan remains unwilling to accept migrant labourers because of an immigration policy structure that resolutely adheres to an outdated view of migrants as mere units of labour. This overlooks changed global models of migration that prioritise human rights, proactive social integration and strategic selection of migrants. While Japan could ease the effects of depopulation and demographic decline by revising core policy assumptions in order to effectively integrate migrants into the dwindling national workforce, it has so far failed to engage with newer models of migration. My analysis locates Japan’s crisis within a wider context of global demographic change and transnational population movement in the twenty-first century.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Political Science

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations


Huang, Xiaoming; Barker, Fiona