Many Japanese Surprised Their Country Accepts Very Few Refugees

Tokyo Skyline With Mount Fuji.

Tokyo Skyline With Mount Fuji. Source: Wikimedia.

A recent English-language article in UK newspaper the Guardian about Japan has been shared hundreds of times on Japanese social media.

Many Japanese commenters are shocked that, according to the Guardian, Japan is planning to accept few, if any, Syrian refugees.

The typical reaction of Japanese Twitter users was one of shame:

I am embarrassed.

While other Twitter users argued that Japan has an obligation to help refugees:

Japan, the country that accepts very few refugees. Japan evades responsibility by saying the problem is [in a far-off country], but we accept far too few refugees. While it's tempting say Japan has been preoccupied by the Legislation for Peace and Security, and that everyone has focused their energies on opposing these new unconstitutional laws, it's really no excuse at all.

Anyone who supports parliamentary democracy based on a constitution should never ignore the plight of refugees.

Taking to Twitter, entertainer Ryuchi Sato observed:

More than 4 million Syrians have left their country. About 340,000 have reached Europe. Germany has promised to accept 500,000 refugees; France, 24,000; the UK, 20,000 (over five years); the United States, 10,000 (over the next year); Australia, 12,000; Venezuela, 20,000; Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and others have also agreed to accept refugees.

How many refugees has Japan accepted so far? A grand total of three.

Traditionally, Japan has accepted very few refugees compared to other member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. In March 2015, The Economist magazine had already noted:

Last year [2014], the number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people topped 50m worldwide for the first time. In Japan there were more asylum applications than at any time since the country signed the UN refugee convention in 1981.

According to the more recent Guardian article currently being circulated on Japanese social media, in 2014 Japan accepted just 11 asylum seekers out of 5,000 applicants.

As well, according to the Guardian article:

Of 60 Syrians already living in Japan who had applied for refugee status, three had been successful and another 30 or so had been given permission to stay long-term for humanitarian reasons.

Hiroaki Ishii, the executive director of the Japan Association for Refugees, was quoted in a Mainichi newspaper interview as calling Japan a “closed country” for refugees:

Hirokaki Ishii, executive director of the Japan Association for Refugees says, “Given the financial support to date for refugees one would have to say that Japan is indifferent to refugees. We're calling on the Japanese government to soften its position on humanitarian grounds.”

Others noted how the issue is being portrayed as a faraway problem. Nobuto Nosaka, who, as mayor of Tokyo's Setagaya Ward has his finger on the pulse of what regular people actually think, pointed to that characterization in a tweet linking to a column he authored for Huffington Post Japan:

Even as Syrians are applying for refuge here, in Japan the issue is being called the “European refugee crisis.” This humanitarian crisis is being treated as someone else's problem.

In another article for the HuffPo, Nosaka argued that Japan must respond in meaningful way to the “calamity” occurring in Syria.

He also noted that Japan's stance on accepting (or, more precisely, refusing) refugees dates back at least to the era of the Vietnam “boat people” of the late 1970s. At that time, according to Nosaka, Japan contributed funding and expertise to help build camps in Indonesia for refugees fleeing Vietnam, and also provided resources for retraining and resettlement in other countries.

However, then as now, Japan was a “closed country” for refugees.


  • WE are not going to cooperate with an American war that will make more refugees.
    That is what we should take care of first.
    That is our help for war refugees now and ever.
    USA is the one who should deal with the mess she created.
    American people, you are also someone who should pay for what you do, learn lesson sometimes, there’s NO EXCEPTIONALISM that works.
    Look at this photo, we Japanese are not going to join a war with you.
    This is a human lettering held in Hiroshima.
    There’s NO CHANCE for you to drag us into a WAR AGAIN.
    Stop forcing us to have a war!
    We are not your SERVANT!

    • Nevin Thompson

      Thanks for the comment. I’m from Canada, not the US.

      • I call on especially American people because it is THEM who can stop what Washington forces us to do AGAINST our will.
        But you are not exception as you are CANADIAN, you are someone who’s also responsible of OUR PLIGHT.
        We are not going to join a war with America, while you can do what you can do to help us, because unlike how we are, you are SOMEONE who’s not treated like ANIMAL by Washington.
        Being Canadian is not enough for your excuse for what USA is doing on us Japanese.
        USA is treating us Japanese local LIKE ANIMALS, this is NOT ACCEPTABLE.
        You can’t imagine how it is like, to be treated like ANIMAL.
        We are HUMAN BEINGS too.
        When was the time that USA flied Osprey over your houses?
        I doubt if they did.
        When was the time that USA spread Agent Orange over your blue soil?
        I doubt if they did, while they did on Okinawa.
        When was the time that US troops raped 12 years old local girl on your blue soil?
        I doubt if they did.
        When was the time that US base captured your local people with no legal basis for protesting against US base?
        I doubt if they did.
        When was the time that US officers sweared at local people protesting against US base?
        I doubt if they did, while they always do it toward Okinawans.
        This is how they treat us like.
        NOT ACCEPTABLE anymore.

      • Nevin, I flagged some post that is obviously offensive, I hope you are going to do the right thing for it.
        I will take it as your bias when you do nothing about it.

        • Nevin Thompson

          The commenter here is using their real name. Anyone who is reading their comments can judge for themselves about the nature of the comments, and the commenter.

          • I don’t understand what you mean.
            I am no English speaker.

          • To begin with, how do we know if “the name” is real?
            Or this poster is Japanese?

            Nevin, I’m no English speaker but I’m no that fool.
            There’s no chance that this poster is a real local Japanese.
            Because no real local Japanese sees me “right winger”.
            This poster is not someone local Japanese, most likely “you”.
            And we usually get in touch in our language with each other, if we need to do so, not by some foreign language.

            I read the former comments of this poster, maybe “he or she” used to be an expat in Japan, but too odd to be local Japanese.

            Nevin you don’t need to do this for kicking me out, while what you need to do is just to ban me, or delete my comment, why do you do this?

            Canadian, odd people, beyond my comprehension. Odd.

          • TomokoHasegawa

            Michiko, you understand nothing. You are a brainwashed Japanese. Maybe you are not “Uyoku” right-wing, but you are definitely a ultra-nationalist Japanese bigot who is not able to take part in an adult discussion (because your school-system is militaristic and you did not learn the skills to think for yourself).
            You need to live outside of Japan and try to understand that you have been brainwashed by your Japanese education and media.
            Japan has no friends in the world if it repeatedly elects dangerous people like Abe or Ishihara. Nobody wants to play with such dirty people.

            Japan needs to have a revolution like France in the 18th century. You must destroy all the evil families that rule your country and start to create a true society which is not dangerous to your neighbours.

            And you must create an education system that does not produce nationalist robots like you but people who can think like adults and elect the people who will be able to make Japan a respected country on the world stage.

            Japan will always be a ridiculous country if you do not stop your pride.

          • Nevin Thompson

            TomokoHasegawa, I’m not sure what you’re trying to accomplish here, but your comments are not constructive and are abusive. Similar comments will be removed in the future.

          • 用があるならツイッターに来な。

    • TomokoHasegawa

      You’re just a typical right-wing Japanese idiot.

  • Martin Hall

    After reading a series of Michiko’s hateful writings on sisqus political blog, I google his twitter account. I see more of the same. The person is stuck on a single thought apparently.

Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.