The changing view of foreigners in Japan

The number of foreign residents in Japan is booming. The Internal Affairs Ministry says the figure reached 2.49 million in 2018. But a new survey finds that only one in five Japanese people have had a coworker from abroad, and interest in foreign countries is on the wane.

The NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute conducts a survey of attitudes to foreigners and foreign countries every 5 years. The latest results suggest a spike in the number of visitors and long-term foreign residents has not translated to a greater interest in interacting with foreigners.

The institute surveyed 2,751 people above the age of 16, chosen at random nationwide, between June 30th and July 22nd.

The number of respondents who said they have no contact with foreigners is steadily declining, but still accounts for 51 percent of the total.

Few connections

The survey asked respondents what kind of interactions they've had with foreigners. Only 21 percent said they've worked with them, 17 percent said they've exchanged greetings with foreigners in the neighborhood, and13 percent said they've studied with foreigners at school.

Interest on the wane

The institute asked people about their interest in interacting with foreigners. Interest was down across the board, with 68 percent saying they want to support people in developing countries. That's down from 75 percent five years ago. The ratio of people who want foreign friends dropped from 63 percent to 58 percent. And only 33 percent said they want to go abroad or work abroad, down from 37 percent last time. The figures in 2018 were the lowest since the survey started.

Waseda University professor Shunsuke Tanabe believes Japanese people don't have many chances to interact with foreigners, despite the dramatic increase in visitor numbers. He suggests that younger people in particular have less interest in going overseas or forging relationships with foreigners.

Tanabe warns that these attitudes could lead to prejudice and discrimination. "Many people in Japan think public security is getting worse as the number of foreign residents increases" he says.

Tanabe says it's important for schools to incorporate international exchanges.

The Japanese government aims to increase the number of inbound visitors to 40 million by 2020, and more workers from overseas will come to Japan thanks to the new law which introduce a new visa status for them. The NHK survey shows that there is still room for Japanese to coexist with foreigners.