Life on the side in Tokyo

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Inclusion and exclusion

For a long period of Canadian history, the main consideration for gaining inclusion in the State was ethnicity. In the 1960s this
changed and a point system (merit system) was introduced that awarded prospective immigrants a score based on family connections, skills, wealth, and the needs of Canada. This did not eliminate discrimination, though. It just shifted the boundaries. A recent ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada is an interesting example. The ruling says that Citizenship and Immigration department must review their decision to deny immigrant status to a man from the Netherlands and from South Africa because they have children who are developmentally delayed (mentally disabled or handicapped) and could require expencive social services. Does this mean the Supreme Court is saying that Canadian immigration law requires the government to be more inclusive? That dissabilities should not be a reason for exclusion? Actually NO. The judges have ruled that the applicants are capable of paying for any social services required, so they won't be a tax burden. This shows that the colour of money has replaced the colour of one's face as the requirement for entrance to Canada.

Saturday, October 15, 2005


It's only fiction, right?? Sorry, think again. RFID and spychips are coming soon to a supermarket near you. Yummy this isn't and it should leave you with an upset stomach. What are spychips? They are tiny computer chips smaller than a grain of sand, which can be tracked by Radio Frequency Indentification (RFID) units with miniature antennas. Why is this a concern? Because, according to Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering (CASPIAN) "RFID tagged items can be monitored invisibly right through items consumers normally consider private, like clothing, purses, backpacks and wallets."
What this basically means is that retailers, such as supermarket giants Walmart and Tesco, will be able to secretly track your every consumer habit, argue authors Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntyre in their book "Spychips: How Major Corporations and the Government Plan to Track Your Every Move with RFID." Governments, too, could well get in on the act. The Pentagon generals must be drooling. If internet data mining wasn't bad enough, now companies can follow you as you ride the train, drop by bookstores or libraries and wander through shopping malls.
What can you do about it? The first step is to know what's going on. It seems that millions of Americans are strarting to sit up and take note and Albrecht and McIntyre's book is now one of the top 10 bestsellers. Consumer boycotts of big-brother retailers may also prove effective. No doubt, the fight over privacy has reached a new stage, where Buy Nothing Day gains a new meaning and imperative. Get ready for action, and in the meantime, be careful what Manga you pick up as George Orwell's "thought police" may be watching.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

??Buy Nothing Day??

Have you heard of Buy Nothing Day? It is now an international day of consumer consciousness to help create awarness of the negative and harmful effects of wasteful consumption.
This year it is on November 26th. More information can be found at The Buy Nothing Day Japan website. You can also find a description of last year's BND in Tokyo.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Cracks In The Wall

Immigration is a touchy issue everywhere these days, though it seems largely absent from public policy debate in Japan. This is surprising for anyone who has taken a serious look at demographic trends. According to one study, the United Nations Population Division predicts that if immigration policy remains as is, the Japanese population will peak this year at 127.5 million and decline to 104.9 million by 2050. Furthermore, the ratio of working aged population (15-65) to retired population (65 and over) would go from 4.8 in 1995 to 1.7 in 2050. That's a heavy tax burden on workers. To avoid this, and a collapse of the pension system, let alone the economy, the retirement age would have to be moved to 77 years old. Wow! Just what most people want to still be doing at 77--WORKING.
Yes, there is the Angel Plan, the New Angel Plan and the New-new Angel Plan. Ouch! Which suggest that somewhere, sometime, somebody should do something so that young families get with it and start making babies. Bad news. The birthrate is dropping faster than the popularity of NHK. A few days ago another panel was set up to look into the problem . Ouch, ouch.
In their wisdom, the Ministry of Finance carefully examined the effects of a shrinking population and came up with 4 startling (ho hum) findings.

(1) A fall in labor supply and an increase in the welfare dependent ratio.
(2) A fall in the savings ratio.
(3) Unfavorable impact on economic growth.
(4) A strain on social security funds.
Real Meaning = Economic Typhoon Warning. Time to pack up and leave.

Yes, there is one other option to prevent economic decline: Immigration (whispering). The UN Population Division calculated that for Japan to maintain its current population through to 2050, ONLY 381, 000 immigrants per year would be required. Uh oh. By 2050, this would be an increase of roughly 17 million immigrants, who would--together with their descendants--make up almost 18% of the population. If we consider that just over 1% of the population of Japan are visitors and permanent residents (there really is no official "immigrant" status) and that many of these people are the descendants of Koreans and Chinese left in Japan after the war, then we can understand why immigration seems like the least favorable option.
But eventually the government, in response to the labour demands of companies, if not for the sake of long-term national economic prosperity, will come around to this option. The problem is that if it waits too long, the economy stagnates and taxes rise to pay for social security and medical costs, who will want to come?

Blog update

I haven't posted for a few months here, but thought I should be more dilegent since I'm making my students keep up their blogs. One thing new is the updated links on the sidebar. They are to blogs for a seminar course on the theme of cultural and ethnic diversity. We are exploring the question of if and how people with various socio-cultural backgrounds can live together peacefully, fairly, justly and cooperatively in a nation-state. It will be interesting to see how young adults in Japan address this question since Japan has struggled with issues of cultural and ethnic otherness and yet seems likely out of economic necessity to require many more immigrants in the coming years.