Americans began disappearing from Japan, even before the March disasters.

So says the Japanese Ministry of Justice, which is charged with keeping tabs on the Gaikokujin in Japan:

(Click to enlarge)

It had been 52,149 in 2009, and dropped to 50,667 last year. Down around 2.8%.

A link to the source: Ministry of Justice site

My immediate thoughts on this:

1) It seems like the Japanese would want to blame the jobs recession–or language skills–on the decline. But it begs the question of what kind of economy supported the issuance of the work visas to begin with? The Ministry of Justice knows exactly the breakout of the 50,000–but they don’t share that information. You know, it can very well be the Pacific Elite, the “lordship” class of these American multinationals, plus their families/children that we subsidize in Tokyo. The rest of us funnel through a revolving door, like Star Trek red shirts.

It would be nice to know that breakout.

2) Chinese keep going up and up, man! Go China!

3) How come the Japanese aren’t as candid about the number of Australians, Canadians, and those from other English-speaking countries with small populations compared to America? America is 50,000 out of a population of 308,000,000. These other countries have 10,000 there, off populations a fraction of our size–but we never get the specifics.

4) Why do our doors have to remain open to Japanese to take our jobs, when Japan’s doors are comparatively closed?

5) I think the trendlines, going out 20 years, speak ill of a continuing U.S.-Japan bilateral alliance. I think it’s going to become a U.S.-China dialogue, with Japan kind-of in there as the guest you have to invite.

6) It’s a shame that the throwbacks who are implementing Japan’s immigration policies won’t be alive in the future, when the sh*t hits the fan . . .

Don’t get me wrong: I have a lot of positive vibes about the Japanese. The problem is with elements of the Japanese government, which, you know, means elements of business/social community.

That loss of about 2,000 Americans from the peak in 2008 (yes, it’s been going down since then) represents real people–not just a number. It represents dashed hopes and dreams. It represents dislocations. It represents time and effort wasted in acculturating to Japan (if you don’t happen to be interested in Japanese culture for its own sake.) In some cases, it represents families split.

You can imagine, that in some circles of Japan, there are sub-ministers and functionaries blackslapping each other and congratulating themselves for this “accomplishment”. “Yay! There are thousands more from countries that don’t necessarily have key relationships with us! But we have finally reduced the number of Americans here!” “We can’t get rid of their military, but at least we got rid of some of the civilians!” Thinking like that.

It’s like I say, it is a shame that the people who make these decisions won’t be around when the actual impact is felt as a result of those decisions. It never happens that way in Japan . . .

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2 comments

  1. TJ Roks · June 11, 2011

    The recent “flyjin”nonsense in the media and on your site is just that. Sure, many foreigners left Japan after the Lehman Shock and then again after the recent earthquake and nuclear power plant disaster. But this does not represent a mass exodus out of Japan, nor an indication that Japan is being shunned by foreigners. Japan had a relatively high percentage of American-European foreigners compared to other Asian countries due to the country’s economic miracle. The country, an island with a population of 1/2th the U.S. and 1/8th of China’s remained the world’s second largest economy for decades. Of course, that would attract a lot of gold seekers, mostly in the form of Nova teachers in Japan’s case. I am not sure what you were doing in Japan or why you chose to throw in the towel, but I can’t see the job prospects being much better in Pennsylvania. This has nothing to do with Japan government policy. It is all about economics. If you compare American-European expat populations in other countries in Asia, it is easy to see that there is still a relatively high percentage of these expats working in Japan.

    In your post you said:

    5) I think the trendlines, going out 20 years, speak ill of a continuing U.S.-Japan bilateral alliance. I think it’s going to become a U.S.-China dialogue, with Japan kind-of in there as the guest you have to invite.

    I don’t understand what you are trying to say here. Do you mean that the U.S. is focusing more on China than Japan due to Japan’s government policies? If Japan suddendly starts inviting in more foreigners, the U.S. will begin speaking to Japan again? I do not see any connection.

    • hoofin · June 11, 2011

      TJ, I appreciate your opinion–especially from your vantage point in Florida. (At least, your IP is telling me you are visiting from Florida.)

      I agree with you that the Flyjin phenomenon was something concocted, and have said so. I also received a visit from the coiner of the term, a Japan-side expat who simply made a comment about it in passing on a Twitter post to a friend.

      But I do think there is more to the recent depopulation of Americans in Japan. I do not believe that it is solely due to the bad economy. As you yourself point out, things are also not so great in America. So to me, Japanese government policy is playing a role. That, and particular business groups in Japan who see the other foreigners as competition to their own “esteemed” roles within Japanese society. (They certainly aren’t going to speak up about the depopulation.)

      The day that the American Chamber of Commerce Journal starts running pieces about the expat social insurance problem, or the disregard that American multinationals in Japan have for U.S. civil rights laws that apply to them through their American parent companies, then that day I’ll change my point of view. Right now though, I have to say that some of what is going on is attributable to policy—not 100% “free market” economics.

      Finally, to answer your reduction-to-absurd (reductio ad absurdum) point, I was simply pointing out that as Japan loses American population, there will simply be less reason for America to feel it has any common ground with Japan. I suppose if Japan makes the revolving door of Americans move faster, they might be able to keep that in check. (Remember, when you see a number like 50,000, it is probably not the same 50,000 that was there 3 years before.)

      Simply, long term, the fewer connections America has with Japan, and the more one-way deals that simply benefit Japan that there are, the more likely Americans state-side will say, “Why even bother with Japan?”

      The well-connected Japan afficionados stateside already harrumph this sort of statement when they don’t get their way about something with the J-government, so it’s not like it’s just me who sees that coming in the not-so-distant future.

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