Research and Impact

OHIO researcher says immigration may be key to solving Japan’s population crisis

Population data continues to paint a bleak picture for Japan’s future each year. The nation has been experiencing an unprecedented decline in birth rates since 2009, prompting government officials to search for viable solutions.

Last year alone, the number of Japanese citizens fell by more than 800,000, according to Japan’s Internal Affairs Ministry. At the same time, the nation’s immigrant population increased by about 289,500 residents.

Charlie Morgan, Ph.D., a researcher and associate professor of sociology in the College of Arts and Sciences, believes increased immigration could be a solution to this population crisis. Morgan, whose background is in race and ethnic relations, has studied immigration in Japan for most of his career.

He began interviewing international couples in rural Japan during his undergraduate years at Joetsu University of Education in Niigata. Since then, his project has blossomed into a decades-long study of more than 40 multiracial couples and their children.

Morgan said documenting the perspectives of these families provides a way of understanding the long-term effects of immigration in rural Japan. Most of the families in Morgan’s study include at least one parent who immigrated from other East Asian countries, such as China or the Philippines.

His research suggests the children of these couples face few challenges integrating into Japanese society.

“They are assimilating very rapidly, and they’re identifying with traditional Japanese culture,” he said.

For this reason, Morgan believes the children of immigrants may be key to solving Japan’s declining population issue, particularly in rural areas. 

Beginning in 2013, Morgan spent the next 10 years reconnecting with the couples he had interviewed before. After getting permission to speak with their children, he interviewed them about their experiences growing up in rural Japan.

“Now, I have the perspective of both parents and their child,” he said. “That kind of data is very rare.”

Morgan said his research is the first of its kind, adding that most studies have exclusively focused on immigration in urban Japan. However, he acknowledged the rare opportunity to speak with couples and their children for over a decade.

“Turns out I was just in the right place at the right time.”

Morgan finished interviewing couples in 2022 after receiving a fellowship from the U.S. Fulbright Program, which awarded him funding for nine months of research in Japan.

He expects to publish a book about his research by the end of summer with Cornell University Press. The book will draw on in-depth interviews of the families that Morgan studied, along with suggested solutions to Japan's population decline.

“What other options do you have? The fertility rate is going nowhere but down,” Morgan said, proposing that one “long-term viable solution is more immigrants.”

May 24, 2024
Trenton Straight MA ’25