Posted by: bklunk | April 24, 2007

The International Politics of Numismatics

Of course, Japan is trying to polish its image.  Is that so wrong?

Japanese Brazil Coin and its Hidden Message « International Humanity

This 500 yen commemorative coin will be issued next year to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of Japanese emigration to Brazil.

The coin will be made out of the same materials as a normal 500 yen coin, but it will depict a Japanese family of three emigrants on one side and a design of cherry blossoms and coffee beans on the reverse. These images were most likely chosen for their representative meanings. Cherry blossoms are a symbol of Japanese culture because they represent a life that is very beautiful yet ephemeral. On the other hand, coffee beans represent the Brazilian economy, rather than Brazilian people themselves.

I propose that Japan is minting this new coin in order to strengthen its image as a friendly, democratic, liberal trading country that is looking to expand its trade industry. In reality, Japan’s population is decreasing, and Japan is quickly becoming an aging society. For this reason, in the future Japan will have an insufficient work force to support an economy that is strained by retirement funds and benefits of the elderly such as medical care.

This means that Japan will have to draw upon immigrants to support its economy. A lot of these immigrants are expected to come from Latin and South American countries. After all, while the Global North is decreasing in population, the Global South is continuing to put out large amounts of babies. This demographic transition will result in the movement of people to where the best jobs are. In effect, this will be a brain drain from Latin and South American countries to Japan where there are more jobs available for people. I think Japan will print this Brazil coin in order to give a good image of friendly relations to ensure its own economic security in the future.


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  1. I think it is very interesting that Japan has decided to be proactive about their declining population. Japan has become a very western society, and much like the US, the women are waiting longer and longer to have children. In their very corporate and urban society, many women are not having children at all. This has lead to a major drop off in population. In a PBS documentary I saw, some classrooms had only one child.

    While it is logical that Japan would want to up immigration into their country, I still find it suprising. The country is still predominantly Japanese without having any other real ethinicity. Until this development, they have been against having outsiders immigrate to their country. Now, with Japan encouraging outsiders is a huge turn in their stance.

    I think it’s a really good decision. This will make them seem more open to the the rest of the world, which could help increase their trade. Furthermore, they are aggrssively opening their boarders to Brazil and therefore opening a whole new job market. This will help Japan’s economy as well as help Brazil who has a huge disparity between the wealthiest and the poorest. This could help to bring the unemployment down in Brazil as well as the poverty rate.

  2. I may be slightly skeptical, but I find it hard to believe that minting a coin which depicts the start of Japanese immigration to South American countries, in this case Brazil, will have any real affect on Japanese society and culture. Japan has one of the most homogenous populations in the world due to its reluctance, even refusal, to open its borders to immigrants. This (along with the changing role of women in society, as noted by Madeline) is a major factor explaining why their population is dropping so rapidly in the first place. Japanese peoples’ acceptance of immigrants in their country is going to take a lot more than the creation of a commemorative coin. Before it is ready and willing to take in large populations from “the outside”, Japan must first experience some important cultural changes, and begin to see diversity as a wonderful thing rather than a destructive force aimed at tainting their heritage.

  3. Like Madeline, I am very impressed by Japan’s approach to encouraging immigration into the country. In fact, I am very surprised. Japan has always been an incredibly homogenous society, and they have liked it that way.

    In truth, without immigration Japan’s economy, and entire social structure, will start to crumble as their population ages. Japan’s population pyramid is inverted, with a huge number of aging citizens, and a very small number of young citizens. In order to fill the jobs that will be necessary to keep the society and economy bustling, there is no other solution but to encourage immigration.

    Madeline pointed out that encouraging immigration from Brazil would strengthen both countries’ economies. I would argue that it would also strengthen the cultures of both. It could be said that to some extent, Japan has been slightly xenophobic, preferring their homogenous culture. The inevitable introduction of Brazilian people will only serve to open the societal views of other cultures and peoples. A greater understanding of others is always a good thing.

  4. I do not think anyone can really blame Japan for trying to increase relations between themselves and other “globally south” states. Brazil is an excellent starting place, they have a history there and a foot hold. It also makes perfect sense for Japan to be looking into other labor forces because as the author points out, Japan is an ageing society. So from Japans perspective I can not see anything wrong with their actions and if I was in the position of a Japanese businessman, or rather a businessman whose firm was located in Japan, I would also be for this “PR move”.

    The problem comes not from the question of is this ok for Japan, but rather, is this a good idea for the global south? The answer which I can arrive at for the south is that this is a terrible thing. If the south is ever going to advance it needs to work on educating its people and building is economies and government security. There is a problem though, if the best and brightest continued to be lured away from the south to economic hot spots such as Japan then the global south is loosing out on its ability to advance. The economic response is then to have the south offer some benefits to the young educated work force in order to keep them in their home states, but can a developing country really offer as much of a benefit to its workers as a developed country? Morally speaking then I think it is in the best interest of the rest of the world to encourage the best and brightest to stay home even if that means saying to Japan and the west, look elsewhere.

  5. I think that Japan’s decision to issue a commemorative coin of Japanese immigration to Brazil is a good decision. Japan has historically been a very isolated country, limiting movement of people in and out of its country. However, there are roughly 1.5 million Brazilians who have Japanese ancestry. This is a very significant number considering Japan’s conservative policies regarding immigration. Presently, Japan is facing and will face the problem of its aging population. Indeed they must look elsewhere, to another group of people, who can work and maintain the economy of Japan. Japan, is opening up, hoping to portray a more positive, open image regarding its immigration policies. Perhaps, they are targeting Japanese Brazilians to somewhat retain Japanese identity as best as they can in Japan? It will be interesting to see the world’s reaction to Japans realization of its aging population and its desire for immigrants.

  6. I have to agree with Alicia in saying that I am reluctant to consider a coin the changing point of Japanese immigration policies. For a long time, Japan has a very homogenous population and is reluctant to let any immigrants in. However, as Japan’s childbearing age citizens are slow to reproduce, the population is aging very quickly with not enough children to sustain their growing economy. Immigration is an excellent solution, but the Japanese may look to their citizens instead. Because of their history, I could see more incentives being used to increase natural population increases. Although the coin is a good way of showing their friendly, democratic ways, as well as showing good relations with Brazil, I don’t think it means Japan is opening its doors. Until the government says more immigrants are allowed to enter, I believe Japan will try to stay as it is. I also see the problem with brain drain on the global south. The United States is the current destination for immigrants and employs all those who want to come. Japan is very technologically advanced, and may not have opportunities for less educated immigrants. If Japan only takes the best and brightest, home countries will suffer.

  7. I find it interesting that Japan has developed this new coin, and I think they are doing a good thing by making it. It’s friendly and can help their relationship with the global south. There will be a brain drain occuring, which will leave the global south with even fewer educated people to sustain their economies, which isn’t good, but Japan’s population is shrinking and therefore they need more immigrants. The coin will show immigrants that Japan accepts and wants them to come, which is a great show of international friendliness. They are reaching out to other countries, and I think this is what needs to happen for Japan to be stimulated economically. More countries should be as welcoming to immigrants as Japan is.

  8. I have mixed feeling about this coin as well. For Japan, this looks to be a big public relations move to help boost trade and emigration into its small isolated country. I mean, yes the population is decreasing and the people keep getting older and older, so why not try to promote trade and emigration into that country especially with country such as Brazil.
    But on the other hand, I feel that just because of the fact that the countries citizens are getting older and older and fewer and fewer, NOW they decide they want people to come into their country. When before when the population was rising and the society was still fairly young, they did not allow many people to emigrate there. But now they deem it as being okay?

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