Common heritage and shared struggle in history are a plus for India-Japan, however, Indians are slow in taking the massive job opportunities that exist in Japan.
TOKYO: India’s demographic dividend, where its working age population of 15-65 years has grown larger than its dependent residents, i.e. those less than 15 and more than 65 years of age, ought to make it among the most hopeful of nations. However, unless there are sufficient opportunities for work, the demographic “dividend” can become a source of instability and chaos, as has happened in many parts of the world where seemingly disparate causes coalesce into what appear to be violent agitations, “Springs” and the like. The sluggish GDP growth rate in India is a cause for real concern, not just for the lost opportunities to accelerate India’s ascension to the top economies in the world, but also to ensure that young people find gainful employment to lead dignified lives.
Meanwhile, the recessions in the Middle-East, and continuing conflicts between countries there, and the accompanying deadly shadow-boxing financed by some wealthy oil and gas economies, have left the Middle-East with decreasing opportunities for young people from India. Since the oil shock of the 1970s, Indians have manned many administrative and technical positions in the Oil Gulf, and have provided remittances even to the extent of 30% of Kerala’s GDP. Now, with uncertainties growing in the Middle-East, and more qualified younger local citizens entering the workforce, it is imperative to find new locations for India’s teeming millions of young to work, earn and thrive. Further, anti-immigrant sentiments in Europe and North America—amidst wrenching changes within the structure of the economy in the context of the rise of robotics, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things—mean that new pastures are definitely needed, different from the historical receptacles for India’s seemingly endless demographic dividend.
One such possibility clearly exists with Japan, currently the third-largest economy as measured in GDP after the US and China, and having a GDP per capita ($38,000) far in excess of China’s ($9,000). Japan’s demographic dividend, which was in play from 1964, ended in 2004. Japan’s rise from the ashes of World War II astonished the world and was a model for countries aspiring to climb out of “underdevelopment”. Today, Japan suffers from an increasing labour deficit, with many streams of work lacking trained personnel from IT to automobile sectors—some businesses are even being closed down for lack of workers, not for lack of revenue. One reason why that is so, is because Japan’s working population is rapidly decreasing, and the fact is that Japan lives and breathes in Japanese language, a language not spoken anywhere else in the world, and has been slow in the past to assimilate foreign workers. It has achieved remarkable economic success without using any English—only in recent times have the young Japanese learnt spoken English beyond that necessary to pass tests.
Ever so many jobs are going unfilled as Japan truly becomes an ageing society. Technology can undoubtedly fill some of the gaps, but only up to a point. People of multiple categories of skills are needed, but an essential requirement is to be able to speak Japanese well in order to function in the workplace.
Interestingly, while Japan is largely a Buddhist nation that always expresses its gratitude for its spirituality that originally came from India via China and Korea, and many Gods in Japan are clearly of Indian origin albeit with Japanese terminologies, and everyone in Japan remembers Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose as among the very few Asian allies that Japan had during World War II, the reality is that little if any immigration to Japan occurred in the post-War era, for reasons including the Japanese language constraint. Historically, Sindhi traders helped Japan when it faced various kinds of boycotts and embargoes before World War II, by creating alternative pathways for Japan’s export and import, which was under British-led international sanctions at the time.
Common heritage and shared struggle in history are a definite plus for India-Japan, however, still Indians are slow in taking these massive job opportunities, compared to Vietnamese, Chinese, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans, Nepalis and Koreans. Despite Japan’s claim that it enables the fastest permanent residency cards in the world for some categories like techies, there is a harsh reality of near-impossible demands for the Indian aspirational class to clear Japanese visa hurdles, even when they overcome the language barrier. Youngsters are being asked for three years of active bank account with lakhs of rupees in deposit (with no recent bulk deposit from a helpful “aunt”). Credit from Indian banks appears to have dried up to the aspirational class for help in emigration, while banks in competitor countries are cooperating to enable credit so that young people can clear the Japanese visa requirement financial obstacle.
Multi-pronged efforts will be needed for India’s demographic dividend to become complementary to Japan’s urgent and growing needs for qualified Japanese-speaking personnel. And such efforts should necessarily be broader than government-to-government meetings.
There are also commonalities of interest in manageing the avalanche of ageing people and issues that are impending in both Japan and India. India itself has 100 million of self-described aged people. In Japan, more than 65,000 people are 100 years old and above. The definition of “elderly” has implications when it is used to try to take away the driving licence of active elderly. Smart-mobility clearly can help active elderly that allows them to drive only to pre-determined destinations especially in rural areas. Many of Japan’s rural municipalities depend on elderly populations for their existence, and likewise, mobility is a lifeline for those active elderly in rural areas. The automobile sector has to speed up its digital transformation for “smart mobility” technology, and Japan needs even more IT workers.
Taking care of the elderly is a Japanese specialty and has become a huge industry that provided structured jobs for Japan’s “aspirational class”, with an elaborate network of institutions and government reimbursement processes where Japan’s ageing population that sacrificed so much during and in the immediate aftermath of World War II is provided secure twilight years.
It is worth remembering that World War II, especially in Asia, damaged Britain severely and certainly hastened Indian Independence. Government-reimbursed services are even provided at home, including visits by doctors and nurses. Now this sector too is facing crisis and business closure due to shortage of workers, not due to shortage of business. Further, Japan has evolved a plethora of equipment to make life easier for the elderly, differently abled, and care providers.
For customer-friendly design, few countries can compete, and it is identified as a key differentiator and basis for the dominance of the Japanese automobile sector in India and indeed much of the world. Just as Nissan has located its world digital headquarters in Thiruvananthapuram, so too can multiple ageing-care related entities for joint learning and action. India offers huge potential, and taking care of the elderly has become a major challenge with the transition to nuclear families.
Thus, both for the young and the elderly, it makes sense for India-Japan collaboration to be enhanced, and Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Shinzo Abe meet every year in a continuing display of bonhomie and goodwill to further extend that collaboration.
Dr Sunil Chacko holds degrees in medicine (Kerala), public health (Harvard) and an MBA (Columbia). He served in the Executive Office of the World Bank Group, and has been a faculty member in the US, Canada, Japan and India.