Representing the alternative: demographic change, migrant eldercare workers, and national imagination in Japan

Świtek, Beata GND

When in August 2008 a group of 208 Indonesians undertook hands-on training in nursing and eldercare in Japan under the provisions of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), their arrival fed directly into debates over the appropriate means to tackle the various projected problems coming with Japan’s aging society and declining population. In this light, the EPA scheme, offering an unprecedented possibility for the Indonesian workers to remain in Japan permanently, came to be debated in terms of Japan’s stance on immigration and Japanese self-representations as a nation. As such, although numerically insignificant and officially not aimed at supplementing the Japanese labor market, the scheme triggered debates over the future shape of Japanese society, and how, and whether, foreigners could be included in it. Against this background, in this article I consider the relationship between the demographic changes and the way a nation imagines who can or should belong. I suggest that the media representations of the EPA trainees and the debates surrounding the program were expressions of particular ideologies of a Japanese nation trying to position itself the projected demographic changes and globalizing processes, which brought about a need for a redefinition of certain representations of contemporary Japanese society.