By Gwynne Dyer

It did not end well for Karolina Shiino, the young woman who won the title of Miss Japan two weeks ago. She has just handed her crown back after a scandal-mongering magazine revealed that she has been having an affair with a married man, but there is an upside to the story.

Both Shiino’s parents were Ukrainians. After her father died her mother married a Japanese man and moved to Nagoya, where Karolina grew up from the age of five. So she is completely fluent in Japanese, she is a Japanese citizen, and she sees herself as Japanese.

Similar things happen to Chinese-born kids growing up in Vancouver and Turkish-born kids growing up in Leipzig, and nobody sees it as remarkable. They become Canadians, or Germans. But a Ukrainian-born kid turning Japanese? Unthinkable in Japan, or at least it used to be.

As a tearful Karolina Shiino said after accepting her crown, “There have been racial barriers, and it has been challenging to be accepted as Japanese.” But the famous Japanese obsession with being racially pure is not Japanese at all. It’s the position from which most countries that receive mass immigration started out.

In 1968, when the first wave of immigration from the West Indies was settling in Britain, a Conservative politician called Enoch Powell made a rabid racist speech warning that it would end in “rivers of blood”. His speech was condemned by ‘the establishment’, but a lot of ordinary people shared Powell’s desire to sent the immigrants home.

Half a century later, the newest actor to play Doctor Who (than whom nobody can be more archetypally British, even though he is allegedly an immortal space alien with two hearts) is Ncuti Gatwa, a man born in Rwanda and raised in Scotland. Fifteen percent of the UK’s population are immigrants, and there have been no rivers of blood.

Most people get used to diversity and many welcome it. There will always be some who cling to their prejudices, but mass immigration has peacefully transformed many countries – and Japan will be next.
Japan’s birth rate is low, its population is falling fast, and it needs immigrants if it is to keep the show on the road. Only 1.2% of the country’s population was foreign-born in 2000; that has almost doubled to 2.3% now – and the Ministry of Labour predicts that it will be 11% by 2070.

And what about China, whose population is already falling and will halve by 2100. A falling population means a population whose average age is going up, and China will need at least a hundred million immigrants in the next generation just to care for them.

It’s hard to imagine a China where 15%-20% of the population are Indians, Filipinos, Nigerians and Indonesians, together with a sprinkling of Swedes, Americans, Japanese, etc. But if that doesn’t happen, very bad things will happen both to elderly Chinese people and to the Chinese economy.

However, the poorer Asian countries from which most of this immigration would come won’t emigrate if there are enough opportunities at home. Birth rates are already at replacement level and still falling in most of those countries and their economies are growing fast, so their citizens may not come in the necessary numbers.

In that case, the only major long-term provider of immigrants for East Asia may be Africa, where birth rates have stayed high and economic growth is not keeping up. That would be a very interesting cultural mix, but why not?