Japan Update: Embracing Diversity in a Shifting Landscape

Japan appears to be in the process of evolving from a uniform society to one that values “diversity and inclusivity,” as it welcomes the onset of what could be termed as “a period of substantial foreign immigration”. Until recently, approximately 97.5% of Japan’s population identified as ethnic Japanese, highlighting the scale of this impending change.

This transformation is driven by various factors including plummeting native birth rates, an aging population and a persistent labour shortage. Currently, Japan’s foreign workforce exceeds 2 million individuals and to address an anticipated 11 million worker shortage by 2040, the country needs at least 647,000 working-age immigrants annually.

Recognizing the need for substantial adjustments, Japan is witnessing a surge in foreign immigration, particularly in industries such as transportation, logistics and services. The maritime industry, in particular, is expected to experience significant impact from this demographic shift.

In a recent analysis in Japan Times, Gearoid Reidy reveals that the influx of overseas workers has more than doubled over the past decade. He predicts that in the future, more than 10% of Japan’s population will be foreign-born, aligning Japan with countries like the UK, US and France known for their diverse populations.

Maritime companies in Japan, renowned for their international operations, are proactively embracing foreign workers due to the rapid shrinkage of the domestic talent pool. Various nationalities are already represented within marine and technical departments for owners with in-house management. Shipyards are also expanding their recruitment efforts to include individuals from neighbouring Southeast Asian countries.

This trend towards increased diversity in the maritime workforce is expected to continue, driven by Japan’s current demographic challenges. As the country adapts to these changes, the maritime industry stands to benefit from a more inclusive approach to talent acquisition and workforce development. In the Land of the Rising Sun, where tradition intertwines with progress, shifts unfold at a deliberate pace, but may we continue to stride with purpose towards change.

By Eugene Quek, Partner and Head of Projects in Japan

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