More adult diapers are sold in Japan than diapers for babies.
That’s an interesting nugget of trivia, but its importance extends much further. It’s emblematic of how Japan is facing a real crisis in its cultural and economic life. Largely a closed, homogeneous society that has not put out the welcome mat to immigrants and outsiders, it has an increasingly elderly population and plummeting birthrates. That means there are fewer workers paying taxes to help finance health care programs and pensions for old folks, fewer consumers purchasing goods, and an economy that is becoming more and more sclerotic.
Robert J. Samuelson, a columnist for The Washington Post, declared a few months ago that “Japan is slowly going out of business; its population is shrinking and it resists immigration. This cannot continue indefinitely.”
One of the reasons the United States has avoided the fate of Japan – so far, at least – is immigration. Since this country’s founding, immigrants have enriched our culture and strengthened our economy. Probably not since the early 20th century, when new arrivals from Eastern Europe, Russia and Italy generated derision, fear and hysteria, has immigration been such a contested issue. President Trump and his Republican colleagues have, of course, been tub-thumping for the last four years or so about undocumented immigrants from Mexico and Central America that have taken up residence in the United States, but there have been associated efforts to throttle legal immigration through the issuance of fewer student visas, placing more hurdles in the path of guest workers who are in high-tech industries, resistance to resettling refugees and even a proposal to slice levels of legal immigration in half.
There are a lot of things you can call this. Racist. Xenophobic. Cruel. Blinkered. And, when you look to Japan, exceptionally short-sighted.
If you want to understand the value that immigrants bring to the United States, look no further than the occasional series the Observer-Reporter has undertaken on immigrants who have settled in Washington and Greene counties. On Tuesday, we profiled Debora Dutra, a maternity nurse from Brazil who volunteers at the Angel Ridge Animal Rescue and Fairhill Manor Christian Church. Dutra is working toward taking nursing and language-proficiency tests so she can work as a nurse in this area.
Dutra said, “Sometimes I get so sad seeing in social media or on the news the bad things some people are saying about Latin Americans, that we are dangerous or criminals. I’d like to show people the truth, that we all have good hearts and can do wonderful things.”
And then there’s Guihua Zhang, who emigrated to the United States from China in 2005 with a suitcase and $1,000. She now operates the Accupressure Reflexology Works in Washington.
“I’ve always worked hard,” she told us. “I never give up.”
Today’s immigrants have not given up on the promise of America. We need to have enough faith in that promise to wholeheartedly welcome them.